Tactics, Strategy and Substance

It’s hard to argue with Brian Beutler’s assessment that in the short run Democrats lost (even if in some respects Republicans did not quite win) the “battle of the sequester,” insofar as Democrats have agreed to post-sequester appropriations levels as permanent this year (which could make them permanent or at least a ceiling for the immeditate future even as most congressional Republicans congratulate themselves for a spending reduction not accompanied by new revenues.

But the thing about congressional Republicans is that they don’t do too well with tactical victories, in part because of a conservative wing that views any “win” as hollow if it doesn’t bring Democrats weeping to their knees. There’s already right-wing grumbling on the refusal of the GOP to force a government shutdown over demands to defund Obamacare. And instead of calling it a day after the sequester and letting 2014 be a “referendum” on fiscal policy (which would be smart because the landscape for the midterms definitely tilts in their direction), conservatives are now talking once again about taking the debt limit hostage for impossible concessions on Obamacare, entitlements, or even a balanced budget constitutional amendment.

So fortunately for the White House and congressional Democrats, hope springs eternal so long as the occasional small tactical setbacks don’t add up to a big strategic–or substantive–defeat. And there’s the rub.

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.