Obama Dashes Republican Hopes to Use Sequester as Leverage


This morning, Republican leadership in Congress was in a frenzy. They were holding press conferences, appearing on television, and doing everything short of getting cotton mouth on national television. The GOP's full court freakout is supposedly their attempt to pin the tail on the donkey - namely the attempt to pin the tail of the sequester on the Democrat named Barack Obama. They had an 'Obamaquester' hashtag and everything.

That the GOP is trying to paint the president with something they themselves giddily voted for back in 2011 is not new. What's new is the urgency. They are putting up a face that the sequester will go into effect if they don't get their way to replace it with devastating cuts in the safety net, but the real urgency, I believe, came from a line in the president's State of the Union Address last night. Specifically, this part:
Now, some in Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training, Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse.
In essence, the President was telling the Republicans something: if you guys want to give us a choice between the sequester - which protects Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs for the poor and students while chopping the bloated defense budget - and your draconian cuts to replace it, we will happily take the cuts in the sequester.

That just made all hell break loose in Republican land. After they were beaten to submission on the fiscal cliff and forced to raise taxes on the rich, and after they were humiliated with the debt ceiling, a fight they were once again forced to cave, the Republicans really thought that the threat of the sequester's across the board cuts was really going to be their big leverage on the budget. They thought they could use that threat to drive big benefit cuts in Social Security, force at least part of the Paul Ryan Kill Medicare plan through, and turn Medicaid into a severely underfunded bloc grant program.

Yes, the sequester is a pretty good deal if cuts is what you're really looking for. And it's a pretty tough deal since it indiscriminately cuts research, clean energy funding, education, etc. If Republicans were really looking to cut spending, this would be a pretty good deal for them. But that was never what they have wanted to do. The truth is that the modern Republican party does not care about spending. They care about a radical agenda to kill off the social safety net and investment in future generations, preferring to sync all that cash into defense contracting and tax giveaways for the wealthy. It's those radical social values of a concentrated-wealth on-your-own agenda that hides behind their thin veil of 'cutting spending.' The president told them last night to take that agenda and shove it where the sun doesn't shine. That's what set off the high pitched alarms that went off this morning.

The Republicans are now emasculated, without leverage, and in disarray. Marco Rubio's 'watershed' moment last night wasn't just the iconic moment of the Republican 'star' fading out, it was symbolic of a party in disarray. The Republicans, for some odd reason, have decided to remain the stupid party even after the election disaster, and figured that putting some air-freshener on their age-old turd will make it smell good. They have decided not to have a serious conversation about the future of our entitlement programs - something the president is ready to engage in - instead choosing to stay intent on making beneficiaries suffer. They really thought the sequester would be their leverage to do it.

But it won't be. The president made that abundantly clear last night. It's slowly setting in on the Republican party on Capital Hill that they have no political leverage left. That if they want to be recognized as a governing party, they must come to the table without their radical agenda, and without their desire to have a political victory rather than doing something for this country.

There is still time for them to do so. They can work with this president and put together a historic deficit reduction plan that makes serious but smart reductions, raises revenue prudently, and invests in the economy of tomorrow. The president called on Democrats and Republicans alike to have that discussion about the country's future - without demagoguing our respective political third rails. If the Republicans unclench their fists, the President will open his arms, and he will bring his party to make the tough choices that need to be made for our future. But he will not let the Republican party's destructive radical agenda run roughshots over the American people - not after we returned him to office to enact a progressive agenda for the future of our country.