Sequester Hawks

It’s kind of ironic that a Republican Party allegedly horrified by Chuck Hagel’s openness to defense spending cuts is allegedly girding up its loins to accept–nay, even insist–on an immediate five percent reduction in defense spending (which will be a lot higher in some accounts) via the scheduled appropriations sequester of March 1.

Major Garrett, who knows these birds a lot better than I do, says they are serious about it:

Tea-party-inspired conservatives now say the only thing worse than defense cuts is no cuts at all. Increasingly, GOP rank and file are nodding in agreement. And GOP leaders now see sequester as the only point of leverage and accountability for Obama. If he wants to replace spending cuts with higher taxes, Republicans will fight that battle—and prefer it to clashes over default or a government shutdown. Obama owns the sequester as much as Republicans, and enforcing what is (spending cuts in law) beats fighting over what might be (default or shutdown).

House and Senate Republicans are closer on this approach than they’ve ever been. They want to make Obama sweat the sequester, and part of that is gamely holding a poker face that they can absorb the political fallout from deep defense cuts and other government-wide spending restraint (even if it means reducing the number of Border Patrol agents, food inspectors, and air-traffic controllers). And if Obama wants to avert these cuts, he will have to offer alternatives more palatable to Republicans (see: Shrugged, Atlas).

Democrats aren’t real crazy about the likely economic impact of a sequester, or the overtly stupid, ham-handed way it would operate. But there’s something to be said in the long run for forcing Republicans to choose, finally, between their small-government rhetoric and their lust for Big Stick foreign policies and “Kill ’em All” attitudes towards enemies real and imagined.

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.