Don’t fall for GOP’s sequester bluff

February 8, 2013

John Boehner’s office is circulating Charles Krauthammer’s column today, which argues that Republicans should call Obama’s sequester “bluff” and make no concessions whatsoever in revenues to avert the sequester. This is still more confirmation that the GOP’s explicit position is that allowing the sequester to happen — which Republicans themselves say will gut the military and tank the economy — is preferable to compromising at all with Dems, and that they will use the threat of disaster to force a solution that averts the sequester only by giving Republicans everything they want.

There seems to be a rising murmur among the press corps to the effect that the sequester debate has shifted a bit in the direction of Republicans. I’m not sure what the basis for this is, but Democrats are going to have to do a better job of spelling out precisely what the consequences of the sequester would be, so the public understands precisely what Republicans are willing to allow happen to force the spending cuts they want.

The White House is starting to do that today, circulating a fact sheet that lays out in specific terms exactly what the sequester would do. A few examples: 2,100 fewer food inspections could occur. Seventy thousand kids kicked off Head Start. Ten thousand teacher jobs put at risk. Hundreds of thousands of seriously mentally ill adults could go untreated. Over $500 million in cuts to small business loan guarantees. Cuts to unemployment benefits — further harming the economy — and child nutrition. Etc.

Look, we’re back to exactly where we were during the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling fights. Republicans are explicitly and openly using the prospect of serious harm to millions and millions of Americans to force Democrats to agree to a deal that gives Republicans everything that they want, while requiring them to make no concessions whatsoever. Meanwhile, they are accusing Obama and Democrats — whose public position is that we should resolve this mess with a compromise that requires both sides to make concessions — of being unreasonable. On top of this, poll after poll after poll shows that majorities prefer the Democratic solution — that is, a mix of concessions by both sides.

The whole thing is every bit as absurd as the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling strategies were. Yet in this case, Republicans are telegraphing to the press that they are more inclined to let the worst happen. Obama and Dems need to treat this like a bluff, and proceed from the assumption that Republicans will cave in this fight, too. Get out there and hit harder on what Republicans are really threatening here.

Is the GOP really prepared to shoot this hostage? Are they really going to allow a sequester to happen that Republicans themselves claim will help the enemy and tank the economy, in order to force deep and unpopular spending cuts, rather than agree to a compromise in which both sides makes concessions, at a time when the GOP’s numbers are already in the toilet? That’s not a tenable position. Treat it as such. Leave it there.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Jamelle Bouie | February 8, 2013