Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – President Obama spent much of Wednesday afternoon in interviews with local TV anchors from states where the defense industry is a major player, and where the economy will suffer if the planned sequester goes forward. From Boston, Mass. to Charleston, S.C. and Wichita, Kansas, Obama did his best to warn those representing four red states and four blue states about the dire consequences that lie ahead, that is, if anybody believes him.
After crying wolf so many times about fiscal apocalypse, Washington politicians shouldn’t be surprised that the stock market is booming and the general reaction from the public about the impending sequester can be summed up in one word, “Whatever.”
There’s an assumption that the White House and congressional Republicans will get together at the eleventh hour and craft some kind of compromise, or they will figure out a way to buy more time and kick the can down the road, as the saying goes.
That’s a reasonable assumption based on past behavior, but this time is different. That’s because conservatives and progressives have come together in an unlikely alliance. The far right wants to shrink government through spending cuts, even if it means taking a meat cleaver to the defense budget. And the far left wants to cut defense spending. When will they ever get another opportunity without being tagged as peaceniks?
Without a viable alternative to sequestration, the two sides are playing a high-stakes poker game, giving few hints about what end game they might have in mind. The sticking point, as it’s been all along, is Obama’s insistence that revenue be part of any deal, that it can’t be all spending cuts. Republicans say that in the New Year’s deal to avert the fiscal cliff, they agreed to raise the tax rates of the highest earners, and that’s all the revenue they intend to provide.
Republicans have a vested interested in voters seeing the compromise they made as an increase in taxes when the overall package extended the Bush tax cuts for most taxpayers, along with other sweeteners like the child care tax credit. Overall, it cost the Treasury money, which the GOP prefers to forget as it makes the case for cutting spending.
The Pentagon announced that it will begin furloughing federal workers one day a week beginning in April if a deal is not reached by the March 1st deadline. And the national parks are putting out guidelines about reduced visiting hours for the public during the peak summer travel season should the planned sequester be put in place.
Here’s the catch: March 1 is a soft deadline. The politicians have three weeks – until March 27 – to find the $85 billion in cuts required under sequester. That’s when the continuing resolution, which funds the government, runs out, and that’s when the situation does get serious.
Some politicians remember what happened during the 21 days over New Year’s between 1995 and 1996 when the Republicans shut down the government. Families traveling to Washington found the Smithsonian museums closed while tourists in New York could only gaze from afar at the Statue of Liberty.
Poker is a game built on opponent assumptions. The White House assumption is that Republicans, remembering how they got blamed in the nineties, will not use the March 27 deadline to shut down the government. The GOP’s assumption is that Obama, saddled with a faltering economic recovery, will make concessions on entitlement spending that could end the gridlock.
What emerges will not be a visionary grand bargain, but rather a chipping away at the mountain of debt without sacrificing either party’s principles or values, what history will regard as too little, too late, but enough to keep the wolf from the door.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND