The message of the day from House Republicans is that the onset of the sequester is a big win for them. As the New York Times details in a big story, John Boehner is leaving town continuing to refuse to agree to any new revenues, and many Republicans are cheering. Rep. Steve Scalise, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, claims that the onset of cuts will be a “big victory” for “conservative principles.” Boehner aides appear to agree:
Republican aides say privately that Mr. Boehner sees no need to negotiate; Republicans are in a good place, they argue, because they want spending cuts and those cuts are happening.
The curious thing about this is that just this week, the National Republican Congressional Committee — which is tasked with winning House races for Republicans — warned darkly that the sequester cuts risk devastating the economy. From the NRSC’s release:
As we rapidly approach Obama’s sequester, the president and his appointees are choosing to cut devastating segments of our economy, instead of the billions in documented waste. [...] It’s time for Obama to stop playing politics with his devastating sequester and finally put forth a responsible plan to avoid harming our economy.
See the problem here? House Republicans are cheering the sequester as a good thing — or at least, as a better thing than compromising to avert it — even though the committee in charge of expanding their majority is on record acknowledging that they will damage the economy. It’s another indication of just how muddled the GOP’s messaging on the sequester has become.
This gets at a broader point. Some conservatives who favor the sequester have argued that if it doesn’t result in any significant damage, it will undercut the Democratic case that spending cuts are bad for the economy. It’s true that this poses a danger for Dems. But it gives rise to a question: What if Republicans dig in and the sequestration grinds on for months — and it does result in job losses and more economic damage? Will Republicans acknowledge that cutting government spending does hurt the economy?
After all, this is a case in which Republicans themselves are on record embracing these cuts as the right thing to do to save the country from fiscal and economic ruin. They can’t turn around and dismiss these as “fake” cuts (as some conservatives have done to avoid giving Dems credit for the $1.5 trillion in cuts they agreed to in 2011).
The contours of the argument are drawn: Democrats say these cuts will damage the economy, a position backed up by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which has estimated that they could cost us as many as 750,000 jobs by the end of the year. Democrats maintain that replacing the sequester with only spending cuts should be a nonstarter, because that would also damage the economy, not to mention hurt a lot of people who rely on the government programs that would be downsized. As Obama put it in a presser just now, framing the stakes in the battle to come: “every time we get a piece of economic news, we’ll know that news could have been better if not for Congress’ failure to act.”
Meanwhile, Republicans are embracing these cuts as the better option than replacing them with a cuts/revenues compromise — even as some of them are predicting the cuts will damage the economy.
If this drags on for months and results in serious damage to the economy, Republicans will own it.