Expect Protracted Struggle Over Sequester Cuts
With no negotiations scheduled between the president and Republican leaders, and both sides seemingly resigned to the sequester kicking in on March 1, it appears likely that no last minute deal will avert the cuts and that neither side will be in a hurry to make any alternative reductions.
It had been thought that the cuts, some $85 billion through the rest of the fiscal year, could be averted or quickly replaced with a longer-term deficit-reduction plan. Those expectations have now dissipated. No significant negotiations are known to be under way between the two parties, which are at an impasse over Mr. Obama's demand that any plan to replace the cuts include more tax revenue.
The president and congressional Democrats are looking beyond Friday, when the across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, are due to take effect. Their strategy is to persuade the public that the cuts would harm defense, education and other programs, make air travel difficult and cost jobs, among other effects. They hope public pressure would force Republicans to reverse course and agree to new tax revenue.
Amplifying the president's message, a new nonprofit that grew out of his 2012 campaign, Organizing for Action, is staging events next week in various communities that would be hit by the sequester.
Some Democrats are uneasy with the prospect of a drawn-out impasse. "I know that there is some common wisdom out there that people are going to have to see the effects for a while before they can deal" on a replacement for the budget cuts, said Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), whose state has large numbers of federal workers and defense companies. "I just don't believe in that kind of governing."
The Democrats' strategy carries risks for the party. It's unclear how the public will react to the budget cuts, and Democrats could find that people aren't as inconvenienced as they predicted. That could undercut their position in negotiations with the GOP and, potentially, build an appetite for additional cuts to spending that Democrats will oppose.
But a protracted fight over the spending cuts also could take a toll on Republicans. Polling shows Mr. Obama has a far higher approval rating than Congress and that people generally favor his position in the dispute. In the battle for public opinion, the White House will argue that Republicans are the reason people may face longer lines at airport and job furloughs. If that impression takes hold, that could cause trouble for Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections.
Meanwhile, there is another deadline looming at the end of March that might give the advantage to Republicans. The continuing resolution runs out at the end of March and it is likely that Republicans are going to insist on serious entitlement reform before they are of a mind to fund the government. Failing to fund the government is a lot different than across the board cuts as with the sequester. Without authorized funds from Congress, the government would literally have to shut down. Eventually, the president is going to have to deal and the continuing resolution might be the time to do it.