Chill Pill for Liberals: Why Republicans Won't be Able to Decouple the Defense Cuts to Restore Post-Sequester

Lately there has been a new worry among the Left about the sequestration: by and large, progressives are happy to see the President hold the line on the automatic cuts unless the Republicans agree to replace at least half of them with additional revenue by making the tax code fairer. But some are worried that Republicans have a tough playbook on this one: once the automatic cuts go into effect - half in defense and half in the rest of government, they will move in with a bill to simply restore the Defense spending, putting the Democrats in a tough spot. That way, the argument goes, they will be able either restore the Defense cuts or blame Democrats and the president for it, and in either case, still blame the economic stress resulting from the domestic cuts on the president and the Democrats.

I'm sure that's what some Republicans may be thinking as well.

There are a few problems with that playbook, however: first, there is nothing keeping them from proposing such a bill right now, yet, they have not. Second, this president isn't looking to play softball with Republicans when it comes to sensible cuts to the Pentagon.

Republicans probably don't have the votes to restore the defense cuts without cuts elsewhere.

Here is the plain truth: if the Republicans thought they had the votes to just pass avert the cuts on defense, they would already have voted on that. The reason they did not means that they either do not have the votes or know that the politics of dropping just the defense part of the sequester is bad for them. Plenty of Teabaggers and Libertarian wingbats are actually true believers - they actually believe any cut is a good cut, and they don't want even the defense spending restored without cutting spending elsewhere. And Republicans can't actually come up with any domestic spending cuts that would be palatable to most Americans.

Most likely, John Boehner knows that in order not to repeat the disaster in late December when he had to pull his own bill to tax millionaires off the floor because it lacked Republican votes, they would have to come up with deadly cuts in domestic programs that will not only be harmful to the middle class but that the president and Democrats will use to beat the Republicans to a pulp. I doubt very much that John Boehner is willing to risk this.

Even in the event that the Republicans in the House got something akin to this passed, the bill would then move to the Senate, and the Senate Democrats would then be free to amend it, restore the service cuts, tack on some loophole closures, and send it back to the House. Basically, if the House acts on its own, so would the Senate. But the bigger possibility is neither will, without a negotiated solution. Democrats in the Senate could also introduce different cuts to the Pentagon, but this time backed by the top brass and the new defense secretary, Chuck Hagel.

Barack Obama is ready for a fight over sensible defense cuts, and Chuck Hagel is his first move.

Chuck Hagel. I'm sorry, but Obama isn't hiring Chuck Hagel at Defense because he wants to play softball with Congress, and the Republicans are well aware of that fact. He's hiring Chuck Hagel to take on the excesses of the Pentagon and the Defense contractors. The sequester isn't exactly the proper tool to do that, but anyone who thinks this President is going to for a second give into Republicans on this is dreaming. And as long as Obama is president, Democrats have nothing to fear from the Republicans on this.

Prior to George W. Bush's calamitous blunder of the Iraq war, the American people for some odd reason used to think that Republicans were the tough guy party. The 2012 election proved that was no longer the case. That's no longer the case because a badass Democratic president has proven his bona fides. Republicans are not going to be dealing with a Michael Dukakis on a tank. They are going to be dealing with a President who ordered a daring operation to kill the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. They are going to be dealing with a president whose foreign policy is wildly popular - ranging from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the use of drones to target terrorists to international diplomacy. And they are going to be dealing with a Secretary of Defense who is himself a decorated veteran and the first enlisted man to serve in that post.

Republicans have basically lost national security as an issue, thanks to Barack Obama. They tried their attacks against this president's defense policy. We remember those moments from last year as horses and bayonets. So if the Republicans don't compromise with the president, they will be seen (correctly) as compromising the country's safety in order to hold onto their commitment to holding the line for rich tax evaders. It is not a fight they can win.