The Morning Plum: GOP is in weak position in sequester fight

Today, President Obama will renew his call for Congressional Republicans to agree to a temporary measure to avert the sequester that includes a mix of spending cuts and new revenues via the closing of loopholes that benefit the wealthy and corporations. Obama will be surrounded by emergency responders — the sort of public worker who will get laid off if the sequester hits.

In other words, here comes the bully pulpit. A White House official emails: “If these cuts go into effect, hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost and middle class families all across the nation will feel the devastating impact. With less than two weeks before these cuts hit, the President will challenge Republicans to make a very simple choice: do they protect investments in education, health care and national defense or do they continue to prioritize and protect tax loopholes that benefit the very few at the expense of middle and working class Americans?”

The Hill reports this morning, however, that Republicans say they’re not worried about the political impact of the sequester. They tell the paper that they will be able to make the case to the public that the sequester was Obama’s idea, meaning he’ll take the blame for the damage it does.

This is ridiculous on the merits: Lawmakers in both parties voted for the sequester. But the more important point here is that this argument is an implicit admission of the weakness and incoherence of the GOP’s position in the sequester battle.

Here’s why: It’s an implicit admission that deep spending cuts are bad politically for whichever party owns them. After all, if this were not the case, then Republicans would not need to try to shift the blame to Obama for the cuts that are coming. Yet Republicans, and not Democrats, are the ones who are advocating for replacing the sequester only with deep spending cuts!

Indeed, in that very same Hill piece, Republicans also say letting the sequester go forward is the right thing to do for the country, since we need deep spending cuts to save the country from fiscal Armageddon. By contrast, Obama and Democrats are arguing against spending cuts of this magnitude; they’re insisting that the sequester cuts be replaced in part with new revenues drawn from closing high end tax loopholes, to avert layoffs and cuts to government that will hurt poor and middle class Americans. In other words, only one party — the GOP — is advocating for the very thing that Republicans themselves implicitly concede is politically perilous!

The basic dynamic here will not be changed by the argument that the sequester was the White House’s “idea.”  The public will fully appreciate the true nature of the two sets of priorities on display here — particularly when Obama cranks up the public campaigning on this in earnest.

* Smearing of Chuck Hagel continues apace: Senators Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte have written a letter demanding that Chuck Hagel explain himself for supposedly saying in a 2007 speech that the State Department has become an adjunct of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Steve Benen says what needs to be said about the depths to which these Senators have sank.

I would only add that their letter treats Hagel’s alleged statement as a direct quote, when not even the single witness who originally took note of this supposed statement is treating it that way. Even that witness says the quotes are “not exact word for word.” There is no transcript of this quote, and a Rutgers spokesman told me the other day that there is no audio or video. There is no allegation of a direct quote by anyone. But suddenly, Hagel is in the position of denying he ever said these specific words. It is now a “he said, she said” story about a direct quote that has not been alleged. Truly reprehensible conduct by these GOP Senators.

* No, Obama’s gun package is not doomed: The New York Times gets this right:

Many gun experts and lawmakers believe the two areas ripe for legislative consensus are a bill that would make background checks for gun buyers nearly universal, and a measure that would create a federal statute against straw purchasing, which would give prosecutors better tools to go after people who buy guns that they sell or give to others to commit crimes.

Have I mentioned that if that and the anti-trafficking measure pass, that would constitute two thirds of Obama’s gun control agenda?

* Background check proposal moves forward: A key moment from the Sunday shows: John McCain said that “most of” the Senate would be able to support the proposal to expand background checks that is being assembled by a bipartisan group of Senators. As I reported Friday, the group — which includes Tom Coburn, Mark Kirk, Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer — are nearing a deal on the plan. Having Coburn and Manchin bless such a proposal would give it a major boost, even among GOP lawmakers inclined to robotically do whatever the NRA tells them to do.

* Liberals shouldn’t shy away from gun argument: Timothy Noah makes a key point: Conservative gun-owning “real Americans are only a small minority, and when liberals pander to the gun-owning tradition in this country, they’re only helping the anti-gun control side. That this even needs to be stated is yet anther reminder of how far to the right of public opinion Democrats have allowed the debate to drift. Opinion is overwhelmingly on the side of sensible gun reform; Dems should act like it.

* Bloomberg spending big on guns: A primary worth watching: Next Tuesday, Democrats will decide between “gun rights” Dem Debbie Halvorson, challenger Robin Kelly, and others in picking their candidate for ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Chicago House seat. Pro gun control Michael Bloomberg’s PAC has been running ads against Halvorson, to let the political world know that the NRA is not the only organization prepared to spend big bucks to influence lawmakers against guns.

What I’m watching for in particular: Will this group run ads against sitting lawmakers — Republicans and red-state Dems alike — to pressure them to support Obama’s gun control agenda?

* Obama free to pursue expansive agenda: Scott Wilson has an interesting look at Obama’s approach to his second term: Freed of first-term constraints, he’s describing the country as he thinks it should be, and threatening unilateral executive action to realize it. Indeed, we’re seeing this on multiple fronts, from guns to gay rights: Obama is laying out a vision of what needs to be done, and letting himself be guided by that; he’s not just laying out goals that are politically possible.

* GOP needs to ditch reflexive anti-government ideology: E.J. Dionne cautiously suggests that Obama’s plan for universal preschool is an area where some GOP governors might be able to find some common ground with the president.

There are other issues that ought to be like this: training and education programs to restore mobility and ease inequalities; immigration reform; and at least parts of Obama’s agenda to curb gun violence. But progress will require conservatives to give up certain recent habits and remember when they, too, believed that government could successfully remedy some of the nation’s ills.

If the GOP can’t manage this, it will continue to deepen its estrangement from the rising elements of the “coalition of the ascendent” that reelected Obama and will increasingly serve as the Democratic Party’s coalition of the future.

* And Obama’s agenda will be weapon in 2014: Steve Kornacki has a nice piece detailing that Obama’s proposals on guns, immigration, and the minimum wage could make good weapons in the battle for control of the House. Key nugget:

Chances are that next year’s election will leave the GOP in charge of the House. But if Democrats campaign on the issues Obama is now pushing and fare better than expected – suffering minimal losses, or maybe even gaining a seat or two – it would generate new momentum for his policy goals. And that momentum just might be enough to help Obama fight off the dreaded lame duck label until late in his second term.

What else?

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