Congressional Republicans are preparing to counter increasingly dire warnings from President Obama about the impact of automatic budget cuts with a plan to give the administration more flexibility in instituting $85 billion in cuts, a proposal they say could protect the most vital programs while shifting more of the political fallout to the White House.In the mean time, Sen. Lidsay Graham is practically begging his Republican colleagues to give up on their no-more-revenues craziness.
The White House's public position is that they are opposed to the Republican plan to shift responsibility, and surely enough, depending on the kind of flexibility we're talking about here - if ever the Republican herd is able to agree on the precision of it - may not be enough to keep the cuts from negatively impacting the economy. But the very fact that the Republicans are at a position where they are even talking about letting President Obama - their arch enemy - pick and choose the direction of the cuts is evidence that the ice beneath their feet is cracking, and their leadership is keenly aware of that.
Right now, it seems the GOP plan, which is still in limbo and has the party divided, is looking to grant the president flexibility, but only within each department's cuts. It would preserve the cuts in each department, but would let the administration shift the cuts around. That, the President and Democrats correctly point out, will not be enough. But suppose the Republicans settle on a plan that preserves only the total amount of cuts and its defense to non-defense ratio (1:1) and lets the president do the rest. With Secretary of Defense Hagel and Secretary of Treasury Lew now virtual certainties, the administration could devise a shrewd scalpel to direct the cuts to defense contracting, farm subsidies, prosecution of drug possession offenses and the like, while largely protecting primary and early childhood education, services for poor and disabled children, and other Democratic priorities.
The political defeat, though, is not so much into how much flexibility they are thinking about giving the president, but in the fact that they are thinking about giving it to the president at all. It proves that their campaign to pin the cuts on the president has failed, and they realize that President Obama has used his bully pulpit effectively to turn the heat up. It proves that the Republicans know that they have badly lost the messaging war on this (as on almost everything else). It's incontrovertible evidence that terming this the "Obamaquester" did not work.
It isn't by accident that the president has stayed on the offensive on resolving the cuts with a balanced approach in which both parties are forced to abandon their sacred cows. The President is taking his case to the people, and he's pressing the case for Congress to work with him and pull themselves off of ideological dogmatism. Politically, he has stepped up to the plate on something Republicans willingly handed to him: manufactured crises. They set in motion - from the very idea of the sequester itself to the knee-jerk opposition to anything he's for - a series of manufactured crises. What they forgot is that manufactured or not, when crises arise, the people look for leadership to the President. Right now, they see a president providing that leadership and a Congress busy manufacturing even more crises.
The President is taking full advantage of that opportunity to provide leadership, and Republicans are thus backed into a corner with no outs. One might say that an wounded animal in those circumstances would fight back. And the Republicans tried to fight back. But they have failed. And they know they have failed. Hence, the new surrender plan, masquerading as a way to put more responsibility on the president.
Please proceed, GOP.