In the past, I have been open to letting the sequester go ahead because I believe that it is critical that we reduce defense spending in this country. We treat the Pentagon budget as though it is an unlimited pot of money and frankly, when it comes to the military-industrial complex, that makes for bad decisions. But after the Republican antics this week on the sequester, combined with the President’s articulate concern for those who will be affected, I’m convinced that, despite the attractiveness of the sequester, Republicans in Congress must get their act together on a real sustainable deal.
Flanked by first responders whose jobs and safety could be placed at risk in the coming days, President Obama criticized the “meat cleaver approach” of the sequester’s cuts. He has rightly focused on the potential human cost of what has been largely an abstraction to politicians and pundits alike: teachers, firemen, and law enforcement agents could all face furloughs or worse. And yet the latest round of debate has been almost exclusively focused on who came up with the sequestration idea in the first place. Only in Washington could we waste so much time debating the origins of a crisis as it stares us in the face.
The president is right to worry: There is a real threat that these indiscriminate cuts will seriously damage the economic recovery. It comes as no surprise, then, that he is seeking to highlight the damaging nature of these cuts and place the blame on congressional Republicans. The implementation of the sequester, painful as it will be, is not meant to torture the taxpayers; it is meant to force the Republicans to act in good faith.
The Republicans have a remarkably incoherent position on the sequester: It is a terrible policy that must be replaced with a cuts-only solution, they say, but there is no actual GOP plan that fits this description. Republicans seem to be hoping that President Obama will negotiate with himself until they are satisfied.
But he has wisely called their bluff. After all, while spending cuts may poll well in the abstract, the implementation of these cuts will prove unpopular – and the public is prepared to blame the GOP. The Republicans deserve that blame: Regardless of the provenance of the sequestration scheme, only President Obama has been serious about defusing it. The Republican “all-cuts” position is not a compromise or even a fleshed-out policy proposal; it’s an intransigent statement of a rejected ideology. Until they accept the fact that they lost the last election, President Obama is right to apply pressure. If they feel cornered by the sequester’s cost, then, it’s a burden of their own making.