Maybe I’m wrong about this. But it’s looking more and more like progressives and liberals are going to be facing a tough question: Which is worse, indefinite sequestration or a grand bargain that includes serious entitlement cuts? Seems to me that sooner or later, major players on the left are going to have to stake out a position on this question.
With Republicans seemingly refusing to yield on new revenues, it’s looking increasingly as if they are going to stick with sequestration and gamble that they can ride out the politics until sequestration-level spending becomes the “new normal.” Brian Beutler has a gloomy take on why this is looking likely. Obama, of course, will continue to push for a “grand bargain” that trades entitlement cuts for new revenues, on the theory that the bite of the sequester really is going to be felt over time — the Huffington Post details that job losses really are starting to happen — which could force at least some Republicans back to the table.
It’s unclear to me which of those two endgames is going to happen. But one thing that appears very unlikely is the preferred progressive endgame: As the sequester grows increasingly unpopular, Obama and Dems rally public opinion to force Republicans to replace it with a deal that combines new revenues with judicious spending cuts that don’t hit entitlement benefits. I’m just not seeing any way this happens.
That means that at some point, liberals may well be faced with a choice — should they accept the grand bargain that includes Chained CPI and Medicare cuts, and join the push for that, or essentially declare the sequester a less awful alternative, and instead insist that we live with that?
In an interview with me, Dem Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a leading opponent of entitlement benefits cuts, argued that it’s premature to make this choice, predicting that the sequester still could end up forcing Republicans to buckle.
“This is not a static situation,” Schakowsky said. “Things will come home to roost at the end of April. Once they do, I think it can change the dynamic. Once the cuts really hit communities, that could really put pressure on getting rid of the sequester. At that point there may be some serious negotiations. That is when a lot of progressives will weigh in.”
Senator Bernie Sanders and Dem Rep. Keith Ellison, staunch foes of a grand bargain that cuts entitlement benefits, have also argued to me that it’s premature to get drawn into this choice. And I hope they’re right that it needn’t come down to that choice. It seems to me, though, that progressives who oppose such a grand bargain might at least start marshaling a policy argument for why the sequester is a preferable — or at least a less horrible — alternative.
By the way, this isn’t to say that extended sequestration is necessarily a “victory” for Republicans. Even if they claim they’ve gotten the spending cuts they’ve wanted all along, it’s premature to rule out the possibility that they could still end up sustaining major political damage, in ways that exacerbate already abysmal public perceptions of the party as intransigent and committed to protecting the wealth of the rich, with untold ramifications for 2014. But still: progressives need to start gaming out the endgame here. And make no mistake — this may lead to a real dilemma.