A recent Washington Post editorial, The blame game over sequestration concludes:
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama seems content to warn of dire cutbacks in everything from naval operations to firefighters and to accuse the GOP of risking them to protect the wealthy. The Republicans denounce the sequester as Mr. Obama’s brainchild (though they accepted it as part of a 2011 budget deal) and say they won’t vote for any more tax increases. Both sides are obviously playing a political blame game, which must give way to serious bargaining soon — or the country will be the loser.
Yesterday Washington Post op-ed columnist Ruth Marcus wrote Republicans rewrite history on the sequester:
The tax debate is now closed,” House Speaker John Boehner proclaimed in The Wall Street Journal.
But why? The deal that Boehner asserts closed the tax debate involved less revenue than the $800 billion he was willing to ante up as part of the debt-ceiling negotiations in 2011. It involved less revenue than the $1 trillion he was offering last December in the cliff talks. By way of comparison, the original Simpson-Bowles plan called for more than $2 trillion in new revenue.
The Republican argument — we gave on taxes, now it’s time for spending cuts — also ignores the full history of spending cuts. The debt-ceiling deal — the one that created the supercommittee and sequester — also locked in $917 billion in spending cuts.
There’s one little detail that both accounts leave out. A previous deal was reached in 2011. Earlier this week John Boehner wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
During the summer of 2011, as Washington worked toward a plan to reduce the deficit to allow for an increase in the federal debt limit, President Obama and I very nearly came to a historic agreement. Unfortunately our deal fell apart at the last minute when the president demanded an extra $400 billion in new tax revenue—50% more than we had shaken hands on just days before.
It was a disappointing decision by the president, but with just days until a breach of the debt limit, a solution was still required—and fast. I immediately got together with Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to forge a bipartisan congressional plan. It would be called the Budget Control Act.
The plan called for immediate caps on discretionary spending (to save $917 billion) and the creation of a special House-Senate “super committee” to find an additional $1.2 trillion in savings. The deal also included a simple but powerful mechanism to ensure that the committee met its deficit-reduction target: If it didn’t, the debt limit would not be increased again in a few months.
Boehner added that sequestration was more or less forced onto Congress by the President as part of a mechanism to avoid another debt ceiling fight prior to his re-election campaign. What’s important here is that it was the President who scuttled an earlier deal. Neither the Washington Post nor Ruth Marcus acknowledge this. Boehner isn’t making this up.
Star Washington Post reporter, Bob Woodward reported this. Last September, Sean Hannity interviewed Woodward:
HANNITY: To their credit, except, I wouldn’t have liked that as a conservative. Because Boehner was agreeing to do something that the Tea Party would have had a fit about, which is raising, what? Eight hundred billion in taxes, and then Obama comes back and wants $400 billion more at the last minute.
WOODWARD: Yes, and of course, Boehner’s argument is that $800 billion over 10 years in new revenue through tax reform, which of course is what Ronald Reagan did in 1986 and actually lowered the income tax rate down to 28 percent. It’s hard. But it’s been done. And it was one way to — to get out of this. But you are absolutely right. It’s the President who comes in and says, oh, we need $400 billion more in some form or his position is, he offered it, hey, John —
HANNITY: Yes. At the last minute.
WOODWARD: Yes. Kind of at the last minute. And when you get into the nitty-gritty details, you wonder, well, why would he do that? He did it because six senators came out with a new plan, and David Plouffe, who was the senior political adviser in the White House, the man who was Obama’s 2008 campaign manager says, oh, wait a minute, this is a watershed moment. This will give Boehner more maneuvering room because some Republicans are calling for more revenue. And the Congressional liaison in the White House tells the president, look, if you don’t do this, you are going to be seen as the weakest president in all of mankind. And in that kind of environment, the president impulsively goes out, endorses the plan and Boehner is trying to — go ahead.
To be sure, overall Woodward blames Congress more than Hannity does, but on this one point he’s clear: it was the President who scuttled the 2011 deal.
Both the Washington Post and Marcus are arguing that the Republicans are changing history, but in their telling and blame shifting they are leaving out history.
Byron York faulted Boehner on a different point.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner describes the upcoming sequester as a policy “that threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more.”
Which leads to the question: Why would Republicans support a measure that threatens national security and thousands of jobs? Boehner and the GOP are determined to allow the $1.2 trillion sequester go into effect unless President Obama and Democrats agree to replacement cuts, of an equal amount, that target entitlement spending. If that doesn’t happen — and it seems entirely unlikely — the sequester goes into effect, with the GOP’s blessing.
In addition, Boehner calls the cuts “deep,” when most conservatives emphasize that for the next year they amount to about $85 billion out of a $3,600 billion budget. Which leads to another question: Why would Boehner adopt the Democratic description of the cuts as “deep” when they would touch such a relatively small part of federal spending?
Jonah Goldberg explains that the sequester won’t be as damaging as advertised (by Republicans too):
And that is what galls me. If the sequester goes into effect, the federal budget for this year will still be larger than last year’s ($3.553 trillion in 2013 vs. $3.538 trillion in 2012). With the sequester in effect, federal non-defense spending will still be 10 percent higher than it was in 2008. But Washington, led by Obama but with GOP help, is telling the American people that unless government gets an even bigger raise (with money borrowed from China, by the way), civilization will unravel, 911 calls will go unanswered, and Bane shall irrevocably seize control of Gotham.
Despite the bad messaging, the Republicans aren’t in bad shape. A Pew poll shows If No Deal is Struck, Four-in-Ten Say Let the Sequester Happen (via memeorandum):
And if the president and Congress cannot reach a deficit reduction agreement before the deadline, 40% of Americans say it would be better to let the automatic spending cuts go into effect, while 49% say it would be better to delay the cuts. Both Republicans and independents are divided evenly over which approach is better, and even among Democrats, roughly a third favor letting the sequester take effect over any delays.
Apparently 40% of the population understands that the talk of dire consequences is typical government rhetoric intended to make us demand more government. If Republicans improve their messaging here and the President doesn’t budge, they’ll probably emerge from this episode a lot stronger politically.
What’s important to remember is how we got here and that the more that’s understood by the sequester, the less scary it is.