What are Republicans doing on the sequester?

February 21, 2013

Liberal commentators are insistent that the Republicans will cave any minute on the sequester cuts. In reality, there are several things going on, none of which involve letting go of the cuts.

(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

One thing that does not appear to be in the works is yet another House vote on the substitute package of cuts passed twice before. The thinking among GOP members is that in passing the cuts twice they’ve made their point. A senior Republican aide tells me, “No decision has been made on moving forward with a continuing resolution, but it appears there is broad consensus to move a continuing resolution after the sequester. Providing the Department of Defense with some flexibility is something we’re currently discussing with our members.” In other words, the cuts stay and would be carried over into the CR, but flexibility to transfer funds within a department is one realistic option to be discussed, although in all likelihood not before March 1.

The Senate is even less hurried. A senior adviser would only tell Right Turn, “We have a lot of options. Members will decide when we get back.”

Republicans simply do not believe that $85 billion in spending cuts would be a hardship, that is if the president and Democrats didn’t insist upon the most visible, hurtful cuts in the most popular programs. If the Washington Monument had not been closed for repairs, it would be the first to be shut down, you can bet.

Nevertheless, one would hope liberals would learn something from this exercise. By exempting entitlement cuts from the sequester (and refusing to reform entitlements in either the supercommittee or the “fiscal cliff” talks) they aimed the cuts at a lot of popular (useful even!) discretionary programs. If they had wanted to avoid deeper cuts in these areas or exempt them altogether, they should have gotten serious about entitlement reform.

If the House passes a flexibility measure, it will be hard for the White House and Senate Democrats to refuse and simultaneously point to their parade of horribles.

In the meantime, the lapdog White House press corps might ask the president a few questions: 1) Why didn’t he engage with the supercommittee to get entitlement reform? 2) Where is his substitute plan for the sequester, a concrete one that can be scored? 3) If the Senate Democrats’ plan is so good, why not demand they put it up for a vote? and 4) Why is he giving Warren Buffett free Medicare while cutting airport security, education, housing and the rest?

Really, for a president so fixated on income inequality, he is worsening the gap between rich and poor, slashing discretionary domestic programs (many of which benefit people of modest income, although real poverty programs are exempted) so we can preserve entitlement benefits for the rich and middle-income retirees. Does he care only about rich people? At least we know he is not remotely serious about any real spending discipline.

As for the Republicans, they should put forth a CR that addresses some of the complaints with the sequester and then get to work showing that when entitlement programs are reformed, the cuts for the military, Federal Aviation Administration, Food and Drug Administration, federal daycare, road construction, etc., can be lessened. It is time to make the choice not between more taxes and spending cuts, but between entitlement reform (that will nevertheless protect poorer Americans) and discretionary spending cuts. If liberals like all that discretionary spending (and want even more!) they should start means-testing Medicare and undertaking other reforms that force wealthier Americans to contribute more to their own health and retirement programs.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.
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Jennifer Rubin | February 21, 2013