The Washington Post

Why Congress won’t win a sequester showdown with President Obama — in 3 easy steps

In politics, the simplest answer is almost always the right one.


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, left, and House Speaker John Boehner

And that maxim is why Republicans in Congress would do well to avoid a confrontation with President Obama over the sequester.

Here's why -- in 3 very simple steps:

1. Regular people have no idea what the sequester is right now and, even once it kicks in, aren't likely to pay all that close of attention to it unless they are directly affected by it.

2. Obama is popular with the American public

3. Congress is not.

Just in case you need a visual illustration of steps 2 and 3, here it is courtesy of Capital Insight polling wiz Scott Clement:

And here's how those three steps work together.

Because the sequester is (and is likely to continue to be) very ill-defined in the minds of most Americans, the politics of it will devolve into a popularity contest between the major players. Which gets us to the fact that Obama is at (or close to) his high-water mark in terms of job approval while Congress sits in political reporter/used car salesman territory.

Given that dynamic, sequestration is a fight that Obama and his senior team rightly believe they can (and will) win. It's why Obama continues to spend most of his time positioning himself politically on it.

Republicans in Congress are operating under the assumption that the blame game on the sequester -- the subject actually hasn't been polled all that much to date -- will shift once people begin to pay closer attention. But that assumes that people will deeply engage on sequestration, a complicated topic whose impact outside the Capital Beltway may not be strongly felt immediately.

If they don't -- and you usually can't go wrong betting on the side of the American public not paying all that much attention to the policy fights in Washington -- then sequestration will turn into something approximating a high school popularity contest, and that's not a game Republicans are positioned to win at the moment.

To be clear: Sequestration will, barring some sort of political deus ex machina, happen. But congressional Republicans may well look back and rue the day.

Fixbits:

Vice President Biden says people who fear they cannot protect themselves without an assault weapon should "buy a shotgun."

Former senator Carte Goodwin (D-W.Va.) won't run for Senate, leaving Democrats still without a candidate in the race to replace retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

Former RNC chairman Frank Fahrenkopf goes after Mitt Romney, John McCain and Chris Christie

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) says he thinks "Democrats and the media are afraid of Marco Rubio because he is a smart, intelligent, conservative Hispanic."

Rubio's office and the White House had a little dust-up over the White House's reported immigration bill. Afterward, Obama called Rubio and two other Senate Republicans about immigration reform.

The Supreme Court will hear a case from a donor seeking to get rid of the aggregate contribution limits for federal elections, which state that an individual donor may not give more than $46,200 to candidates and $70,800 to political parties in a given cycle. The case does not seek to overturn the individual contribution limit, which is $2,600 per candidate per election.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), whose Northern Virginia district will be a Democratic target when he retires, looks like he'll run again in 2014.

Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Tenn.) says he's more opposed to violence against women than against men "because most men can handle it a little better than a lot of women can."

Missouri Republicans want to pass a law that would make it a felony to introduce legislation that would roll back gun rights.

Must-reads:

"Weapons made with 3-D printers could test gun-control efforts" -- Michael S. Rosenwald, Washington Post

"Sequester just over a week away, but blame game has already begun" -- Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

"Obama’s Forecast on Cuts Is Dire, but Timing Is Disputed" -- Michael D. Shear and Michael Cooper, New York Times

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