Beltway commentators have not begun to feel the sting of the sequester just yet. But individual lawmakers have — and they’re the ones who matter.
Republicans have assumed an air of triumphalism in the sequester fight; today GOP party officials are gleefully pointing to the news that the White House has warned that an Easter Egg Roll could be canceled thanks to the sequester, which is presumably supposed to prove that the White House is playing politics with the cuts.
But the superficial skirmishing about egg hunts and White House tours belies the fact that the sequester cuts are very real and that this is a long game that’s only just begun. Politico makes this clear in a must read piece on the impact the sequester cuts are having on two districts — one Republican, the other Democratic — and the political pressure those cuts are putting on two lawmakers to do something about them.
The Republican lawmaker, Rep. Rodney Davis, and the Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Bill Enyart, both of Illinois, are already taking blame for the 4,500 civilian workers at a local air force base who are set to receive furlough notices. Both are also worried about federal funding drying up for a host of other institutions and social services in their districts.
The Senate is set today to pass a bill funding the government beyond the March 27th shutdown deadline that allows for some flexibility in the allocation of non-defense cuts. The measure, which is expected to clear the House, could mitigate the pain somewhat.
But lawmakers are discovering that the cuts are real and they are going to have political consequences, and there are already signs that they may be taking a political toll. A new CNN poll finds that Obama’s approval rating has dipped below 50 percent. But the news is worse for Republicans: only 38 percent have a favorable view of the GOP, versus 54 percent who view it unfavorably. Fully 79 percent disapprove of how the GOP is handling the budget and spending — more than the 67 percent who disapprove of Obama’s handling of them. Seventy percent say Republicans are not doing enough to cooperate with Obama, versus 56 percent who say Obama isn’t cooperative enough. A plurality says the GOP is too “extreme” and 68 percent say the party favors the rich.
Yes, the sequester clearly holds perils for both sides. But the Politico story shows that this battle may end up unfolding exactly as Dems had predicted — with individual lawmakers beginning to panic as the reality of the cuts begins to be appreciated by their constituents. With Republicans claiming the sequester as a “victory,” the GOP could continue to be tarred as the party of destructive austerity. What’s more, majorities support the Dem argument that we should replace it the sequester with a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes. By contrast, the GOP fiscal vision — deficit reduction only through deep spending cuts, paired with deep cuts on tax rates on the rich — is unpopular, and Dems may be able to persuasively argue (given that 68 percent see the GOP as the party of the rich) that Republicans would sooner allow the pain of extended sequestration to continue rather than close a few millionaire loopholes.
However this turns out, the moral of the story is that people really, really don’t like spending cuts when they’re directly impacted by them. The outstanding question is whether Dems can leverage that fact in their favor by playing on existing perceptions of the GOP in a way that forces individual lawmakers to the table to discuss new revenues.
* About that GOP makeover: With chatter continuing about that big Republican National Committee report on the state of the party, Dana Milbank savages RNC chair Reince Priebus for calling for major changes to win over key demographics while absolutely refusing to suggest any meaningful changes to the party’s actual policies. Milbank sums up the new “makeover” message: “All are welcome in the Republican Party — as long as they’re conservative.”
I would add that until the GOP drops the draconian Paul Ryan vision as its primary blueprint for the country’s fiscal and economic future, nothing meaningful is going to change.
* What’s next for Obama’s nominee as labor secretary? Teresa Tritch has a good piece on the challenges awaiting Thomas Perez if he’s confirmed as Obama’s labor secretary, at a time when organized labor is trying to cope with high unemployment, rising inequality, low wages, rising inequality, declining mobility, etc. Partly because of Obama’s pivot to the deficit, labor issues were put on a back burner during his first term, so the question is: Will Perez be granted the power to actually advance labor’s agenda?
* Get ready for another debt limit showdown: Bruce Bartlett has an interesting curtain raiser on what we’re likely to see now that Republican leaders are again threatening to use the coming debt ceiling deadline to extract major concessions. Bartlett advises Obama to be prepared to exercise the 14th Amendment option if necessary, something the White House has ruled out. The big wild card here is that this could unfold amid continued sequestration cuts, amplifying the governing-by-crisis atmosphere even more and making the politics of this battle even more volatile.
* Most Americans see Iraq War as a mistake and a failure: On the 10 year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a new CBS poll finds that 54 percent of Americans think we should have stayed out of the country, while only 38 percent say it was the right thing to do — a dramatic swing from the 69 percent who supported the invasion in early 2003. Fifty percent say the mission was unsuccessful — indeed, even Republicans are divided on whether the U.S. accomplished its objectives, 46-45.
* A tale of two budgets: Katrina vanden Heuvel gets this exactly right:
Last week in Washington was a tale of two budgets. One of them used popular, common-sense plans to create millions of jobs. The other had a battery of discredited ideas that would kill jobs and derail the recovery. Guess which one much of the mainstream media were chattering about?
The mere fact that Senate Democratic plan, and not the progressive proposal, is widely discussed as the polar opposite of the Ryan plan — with the Senate Dem and Ryan proposals supposedly equidistant from some imagined “center” — is alone a sign of how far to the right the debate has drifted.
* On gay marriage, a long road to the Supreme Court: Adam Liptak has a deep dive into the origins and history of the two gay marriage cases to be argued before the Supreme Court in coming days. Of particular note is that Theodore Olson and David Boise, the lawyers who are arguing against Proposition 8, are going for a big win — a sweeping ruling by the Court holding that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, which could lead to the toppling of all other state laws outlawing gay marriage around the country.
* And CPAC was awash in Michele Bachmann’s lies: For two days now, Glenn Kessler has documented the enormous whoppers Michele Bachmann inflicted on her audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, one involving over $1 billion in supposed presidential perks for Obama, and the other insisting that “bureaucrats” benefit far more from food stamps than poor people do. As I and others have noted, as long as GOP officials like Bachmann pay no price for blithely feeding nonstop delusions to the conservative base, it will remain difficult for more sensible Republicans to chart a more moderate course.