Sequester Versus Budgeting

While there’s growing pessimism over Congress being able to reach any sort of agreement to avoid the scheduled March 1 “sequester” of appropriations, that’s not to say the two parties will necessarily bear equal blame. The one thing that is as absolute as the sun rising in the east is that Republicans, particularly in the House, will not agree to any new revenues in a deal to cancel or mitigate the sequester. Democrats have a considerable range of freedom in orbiting that fixed point, and TPM’s Brian Beutler suggests a message that will come from Harry Reid and company:

Perhaps the parties can’t agree on a complete sequester replacement. But they can pay it down for a few months with popular cuts and revenue raisers, including by eliminating tax subsidies for oil companies.

“[T]here’s a lot of things we can do out there, and we’re going to make an effort to make sure that … sequestration involves revenue,” Reid added. “Remember, the American people still believe, by an overwhelming margin, that the rich should contribute to this. They believe that Medicare shouldn’t be whacked. They believe domestic discretionary spending has been hit very hard already. They believe that there could be a better way of dealing with defense than this meat cleaver that sequestration does.”

This is another way of saying the Democrats will attempt to clarify both the stakes and the parties’ positions to voters and incumbent interests — to signal to voters that Republicans would rather cut spending on programs for the poor than raise even a small amount of revenue by ending subsidies for oil companies; and to signal to the defense industry leaders that their long-time GOP allies will abandon them rather than tax oil companies even a little bit. In fact, Republicans’ position amounts to telling defense contractors that they’ll happily threaten their profits unless Democrats agree to cut social insurance programs.

More generally, this posture positions Democrats as wanting to make actual decisions about spending and taxes instead of allowing brain-dead across-the-board cuts take place to achieve arbitrary deficit reduction targets. Would that argument be compelling? Republicans must think so, since they’ve spent an enormous amount of time and money drawing attention to the Democratic-controlled Senate’s refusal to pass a budget resolution in recent years.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.