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Does Obama Have Edge in Sequestration Negotiations?

Zachary A. Goldfarb's WaPo article, "Obama to press for stopgap sequester fix" provides an update on the white house's latest strategy for addressing the "deep, automatic cuts to domestic and defense spending" that are scheduled if a deal is not struck.

Goldfarb reports that President Obama, joined by "firefighters and other emergency personnel, will press Congress to pass a short-term measure that would delay the cuts, known as the sequester, for a period of time until Congress can pass a permanent fix." Further, adds Goldfarb,

Obama favors replacing the sequester with a combination of spending cuts in automatic programs like Medicare and Medicaid and new tax revenue, raised by scaling back tax breaks that benefit the wealthy and select industries, such as energy firms. With a sweeping deal unlikely in two weeks, Obama is pushing for a short-term measure to delay the start of the sequester -- such as one proposed last week by Senate Democrats that would use alternative spending cuts and tax hikes to postpone the sequester through the end of the year.

...While the cuts -- the first of $1.2 trillion set to occur over a decade -- may start March 1, they would only be felt over time. The cuts could be devastating for government contractors, civilian employees and the overall economy -- which economists say could lose 750,000 jobs as a result of the deep reductions in spending.

Writing in today's Washington Monthly Political Animal, TDS managing editor Ed Kilgore adds,

He'll do what he can to make sure Republicans take the blame for the sequester, and then will fight to undo some of the damage in the immediately ensuring negotiations over the expiration of the continuing resolution on appropriations. But assuming Republicans have permanently eschewed the threat of a debt default, March should close the curtain on the last regularly scheduled fiscal crises until the midterms or perhaps even longer.

Meanwhile, The Plum Line's Greg Sargent has an interesting argument that the Republicans are far more vulnerable than the president and Democrats if the sequestration actually kicks in:

The Hill reports this morning, however, that Republicans say they're not worried about the political impact of the sequester. They tell the paper that they will be able to make the case to the public that the sequester was Obama's idea, meaning he'll take the blame for the damage it does.

This is ridiculous on the merits: Lawmakers in both parties voted for the sequester. But the more important point here is that this argument is an implicit admission of the weakness and incoherence of the GOP's position in the sequester battle.

Here's why: It's an implicit admission that deep spending cuts are bad politically for whichever party owns them. After all, if this were not the case, then Republicans would not need to try to shift the blame to Obama for the cuts that are coming. Yet Republicans, and not Democrats, are the ones who are advocating for replacing the sequester only with deep spending cuts!

Indeed, in that very same Hill piece, Republicans also say letting the sequester go forward is the right thing to do for the country, since we need deep spending cuts to save the country from fiscal Armageddon. By contrast, Obama and Democrats are arguing against spending cuts of this magnitude; they're insisting that the sequester cuts be replaced in part with new revenues drawn from closing high end tax loopholes, to avert layoffs and cuts to government that will hurt poor and middle class Americans. In other words, only one party -- the GOP -- is advocating for the very thing that Republicans themselves implicitly concede is politically perilous!

The basic dynamic here will not be changed by the argument that the sequester was the White House's "idea." The public will fully appreciate the true nature of the two sets of priorities on display here -- particularly when Obama cranks up the public campaigning on this in earnest.

It's yet another game of 'political chicken,' and it does appear that the president has an advantage in the blame game. There is no guarantee, however, that the Republicans will behave in a way consistent with either logic or self-preservation. But their party is already badly tarnished as being more interested in obstruction than good government. One more major disaster for the GOP could cripple their image enough to insure that Dems will hold the Senate and make better-than-expected inroads in the House in 2014.