February 20, 2013

With the sequester all but certain to hit next week, both parties are laying the groundwork to win the political battle that will unfold once the American people begin to feel the effects of the spending cuts it will inflict. Today John Boehner takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to argue that the sequester is all Obama’s fault. Boehner argues that the politics of the sequester favor Republicans:

The president has repeatedly called for even more tax revenue, but the American people don’t support trading spending cuts for higher taxes. They understand that the tax debate is now closed. [...]

So, as the president’s outrage about the sequester grows in coming days, Republicans have a simple response: Mr. President, we agree that your sequester is bad policy. What spending are you willing to cut to replace it?

As a substantive matter, if John Boehner really believes we can achieve substantial deficit reduction with spending cuts alone, then perhaps he should go ahead and name the specific spending cuts Republicans would support that would accomplish this. That aside, I continue to be perplexed by the apparent belief among Republicans that they will be able to shift the blame for the sequester entirely to Obama. Boehner’s claim that the American people “don’t support trading spending cuts for higher taxes” is highly dishonest: in reality, we’re talking about closing loopholes and deductions enjoyed by the rich and corporations; and the American people oppose bringing down the deficit only through deep cuts to specific programs. The American people know who stands for a deeply unbalanced approach, and who favors a judicious, balanced one.

Indeed, majorities of the American people take a dim view of the Congressional GOP’s policy priorities. A recent Post poll found that 55 percent of Americans — including 55 percent of independents and 64 percent of moderates — have an unfavorable view of the policies Congressional Republicans will pursue over the next four years. This is not a political atmosphere in which Republicans can count on escaping blame if and when Washington shenanigans damage the economy. Obama just decisively won an election that turned heavily on public perceptions of which party is really on the side of working Americans, and which is really on the side of the wealthy. Polls have shown majorities see Republicans as the uncompromising party in Washington. So the public is likely to be inclined to blame them — at least in part — for the continued standoff, without paying close attention to the details. Put simply, Republicans have more to lose politically than the reelected Obama does.

Republicans may simply be putting on a game face about the politics of the sequester because they may view it as a necessity at this point. As you may recall, a top GOP aide told Politico recently that a government shutdown fight might be necessary for Republican lawmakers to get the need for an apocalyptic confrontation with Obama “out of their system,” i.e., for “member management purposes.” But The Hill reports that Republican aides have revised this strategy; they have decided the sequester is a better target than the government shutdown to stage this confrontation.

And so the sequester is apparently necessary for rank and file lawmakers to get the need to stick it to Obama “out of their system.” Republicans have defined victory as agreeing to no new revenues whatsoever, so it’s unclear whether there’s any other way out of this for them. Surely some of them view the sequester as a good thing, and surely some genuinely believe the politics of this fight favors the GOP. We’ll see how this plays out, but it seems highly unlikely that they’ll be able to escape damage here.

* Obama has upper hand in sequester fight: Relatedly, the Fix team lays out the reasons Obama will likely get far less of the blame for the sequester than Republicans will. Thumbnail version:

Obama is popular with the American public. Congress is not.

And whatever the popularity of “Congress,” the popularity of Congressional GOP policies, as noted above, is in the toilet.

* Get ready for the sequester: The Post overview strongly indicates it’s about to happen, and suggests that if there is no serious public backlash, that could favor Republicans, because it would validate their view that deep spending cuts aren’t that harmful. But there’s also this:

Macroeconomic Advisers, an independent economic group, said Tuesday that sequestration would cost 700,000 jobs and push the unemployment rate a quarter of a percentage point higher than it otherwise would have been. The group said in its analysis that the cuts would be a significant economic hit, given that taxes have already gone up this year and “with the economy still struggling to overcome the legacy of the Great Recession.”

Worth remembering: Republicans themselves previously said the sequester’s cuts would tank the economy, before deciding to use the sequester as leverage to extract still more spending cuts.

* Gay marriage proponents launch advertising campaign: The Respect for Marriage Coalition is going up with a new national TV ad arguing that gay marriage now has majority support and featuring Republicans Colin Powell and Dick Cheney arguing on its behalf — underscoring the bipartisan consensus behind full equality for gays and lesbians. The campaign comes as the Supreme Court readies cases on DOMA and Proposition 8, and seems designed to demonstrate that the culture is shifting irrevocably in favor of gay marriage, which could weigh on the Justices hearing the arguments.

* Obama must weigh in on Prop 8 case: Ruth Marcus has a very good explainer detailing why the only clear logical conclusion from Obama’s Inaugural remarks is for the administration to submit a brief arguing that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. As I noted yesterday, it’s hard to see how the failure to do this wouldn’t undermine the historic nature of those remarks. Plus, helping put state laws barring gay marriage on the path to extinction would be a major boon to Obama’s legacy.

 * John McCain does the right thing on immigration reform: A very interesting account of a town hall meeting held by John McCain, in which the Arizona Senator admirably stuck by the need for immigration reform  in the face of hostile questioning from his own constituents. It’s a reminder of just how out of step with broader public opinion GOP base voters remain on the issue — which will make it harder for Republicans to back genuine reform.

* The new “center” is over to the right: Digby on the new Simpson-Bowles plan and how it illustrates that Democrats, by forever chasing Republicans in the quest for compromise, have allowed “Lords of the Center” to shift the middle ground to the right, while the House progressive plan remains entirely marginalized:

So, the truth is that it’s the progressives who are offering the only “balanced approach.” And such a balanced approach is considered a radical position so outside the mainstream that it isn’t even discussed.  Yes, our politics are absurd.

This is plainly true, if by “balanced,” we mean, “demands roughly equivalent concessions by both sides.”

 * And today’s adventure in right wing media dishonesty: A truly remarkable story from the Daily News reporter who unwittingly started the rumor that Chuck Hagel spoke to the fictional group “Friends of Hamas,” a falsehood that was deliberately amplified by conservative media even before anyone knew whether such a group existed.

What else?

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