The Republican embrace of the sequester cuts has already paid dividends, even if all it does is slow the increase in spending rather than make real reductions in overall budgets. It has forced Barack Obama to ask for a delay on his own budget proposal while offering no new ideas on spending reductions. The move also forced Senate Democrats to go back to normal order to offer alternatives, and The Hill reports that they were utterly unprepared for it:
Senate Democrats are struggling to come up with a replacement for the $85 billion spending-cut sequester set to begin on March 1.
Key Democrats huddled Thursday in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office to discuss options for preventing the looming cuts after returning from a retreat in Annapolis where they discussed strategy with President Obama. …
Other senators said the party so far has not agreed on the balance of tax hikes and spending cuts in a package, on how big the package would be or on how much of the sequester it would replace.
Yeah, but other than that, they’ve got it nailed. What else is there to discuss? The bill title?
Remember, too, that the sequester was proposed by the White House, passed by both chambers of Congress, and signed by President Obama eighteen months ago. At that time, no one expected it to actually activate; practically everyone expressed opposition to the sequester. However, only the House actually took action to replace it — twice, in fact, passing bills that replaced the sequester cuts with other more rational spending reductions. Neither the Senate nor the White House acted on those House bills, and neither entity proposed even a single specific idea for its replacement.
Even more amusing, the Senate has gone so long without passing a normal-order budget that Democrats aren’t quite sure what the process is any longer:
The Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over tax issues, but Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mt.), the panel’s chairman, said he wasn’t sure who would lead the bill through the Senate.
Asked if he would be the senator shepherding the bill, he responded: “Good question.”
Unbelievable. After 18 months, the Democrats had no Plan B for the sequester, assuming that Republicans would be desperate to stop it themselves and would willingly go back into fiscal-cliff mode to deal with Obama and Harry Reid directly. Instead, the decision to insist on normal order and require Democrats to produce a bill has exposed them as entirely unready to govern in both the Senate and the White House.
As I wrote yesterday for the Fiscal Times, this doesn’t mean that Republicans will win everything they want, but they’ve certainly made the real problem in spending discipline as clear as possible:
Obama provided plenty of dire warnings about the damage that his own budget-gimmick proposal may do if it becomes active in less than four weeks. What Obama hasn’t provided is an actual solution for replacing his previous solution. In fact, Obama hasn’t yet provided a budget proposal for FY2014, despite having a statutory requirement to do so by now – making four budget proposals out of Obama’s five opportunities that arrived late. Instead of offering specific proposals for spending cuts to replace the sequester, Obama offered a vague demand for “tax reform” that would increase revenue again.
This deadline has been in place for months. It became clear weeks ago that Republicans would likely allow the sequester to go forward, at least long enough to put pressure on replacement cuts from Democrats, and would be in position to refuse to raise any more revenue. And yet Obama not only sounded like someone shocked out of a reverie, he offered nothing to resolve the standoff – and neither did Harry Reid and Senate Democrats, not even an offer to take up the bill approved by the House in the last session if passed again.
It turns out that the real crisis has been Democratic governance all along … or the lack of it.