Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Sequestering the sequestors
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Unless one or the other side has a change of heart, the much talked about budget-cutting device of sequestration will kick in on March 1st. It would be far preferable if the White House and congressional Republicans reach an agreement to distribute spending cuts more fairly, but for now it appears they will be arbitrarily leveled across the board at both the defense budget and domestic spending.
Every domestic program that is not a protected entitlement will take a hit, and that includes everything from federal spending on cancer and Alzheimer’s research to funding for Head Start and Air Traffic Control at airports. Spending you didn’t even know you needed, like weather satellites, will be scaled back.
That’s the bad news, but the good news is that these cuts will not be felt on Day One. There will be time for lawmakers to consider what they have done and to come back and rectify their mistake. Of course, they may need help seeing the error of their ways, and that’s where President Obama comes in.
There are three weeks between March 1 and March 27 when the “continuing resolution” that funds the government expires, and that window is when Congress will finally get to work. They will fix the sequester, and they will continue to fund the government unless Republicans have completely lost their minds, and want to see their party go the way of the Whigs.
Until the axe actually falls, all the talk about sequestration is theoretical with politicians painting dire scenarios while trying to stick the other party or the president with the blame. But when it actually happens, the Pentagon and department heads throughout the government will have to come up with a road map indicating how they will implement the cuts.
The president has already started to play hardball, pointing out that the threat of deep cuts has forced the Navy to delay sending an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf. That’s just a hint of what’s to come in terms of actual cuts and the president’s ability to use the bully pulpit to play politics around the impact of those cuts.
When the theoretical becomes the personal, and individual lawmakers get a taste of how their district or state could be affected, the political equation favors the president. That is especially true when it comes to defense spending. Congress has been diligent in awarding defense contracts in virtually every congressional district in the country. When jobs are lost, lawmakers can be counted on to loudly protest cutbacks that hurt their constituents.
Obama should have a game plan ready should sequestration happen, and that game plan should target Republicans who supported sequestration, and whose districts could suffer. The president could legitimately call in those members and let them know that unless they dial back, defense spending in their districts will take a hit.
This can be done largely under the radar although a Republican entering the Obama White House is rare enough that such a visit is unlikely to escape attention. Republicans who stood firm for sequestration are going to be very uncomfortable standing by while their constituents suffer. It would be a matter of sequestering the sequestors.
Politics is a contact sport, and nobody is going to blame Obama for getting tough on the other party. Lawmakers who supported sequester can’t go running to the press to say they didn’t think their district would be punished. They would look foolish.
The sequester was designed as something so onerous it should never happen, but it appears that it will happen, and it could be the ultimate teaching tool for Obama to bring Congress into line.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND