Sequester “Flexibility” Double-Vetoed

Yesterday I discussed the “backup plan” Senate Republicans are beginning to kick around for making the impending appropriations sequester less stupid by giving federal agencies flexibility to implement cuts as they wish so long as spending targets are reached. I noticed a definite lack of interest in this possibility in the chattering classes, as Republicans continued to focus on blaming Obama for the sequester and Democrats talked about the possibility of repealing it altogether.

Turns out the budget wonk’s budget wonk, Stan Collender, addressed the “flexibility” option at his blog earlier this month, and reached this judgment:

A backup plan being discussed by Senate Republicans that would keep the sequester in place but give the departments and agencies flexibility in how they may be achieved is just as confusing but for a very different reason. The flexibility the Senate GOP wants is not acceptable to House Republicans because they’re afraid that the Obama administration will use the flexibility to cut programs, projects, and activities in Republican-held districts while adding funds in those represented by Democrats.

Meanwhile, the word from the White House is that it doesn’t want the flexibility the Senate GOP wants to provide because that could leave it open to criticism from those whose programs are cut rather than saved. The administration’s reasoning apparently is that the very strict sequester spending cut formula will mean that it cannot be blamed for the results if sequestration happens.

In other words, the sequester — the deficit reduction alternative that was supposed to be so dastardly that Democrats and Republicans alike would do everything possible to avoid it – actually has become what’s most likely to happen.

So the “less stupidity” option is facing a bipartisan veto, and worse yet, the knowledge that it would not actually happen is probably why Senate Republicans are proposing it in the first place. If that puzzles you, welcome to the wonderful world of budget politics, where reality is never close to the surface.

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.