POLITICS

Obama blinks on the sequester, GOP finally has upper hand

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein

In November 2011, President Obama lamented that “some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts” that were part of that August’s deal to raise the debt limit. “My message to them is simple:  No.  I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending.  There will be no easy off ramps on this one.”

Now, it’s Obama who is looking for an off ramp. With the automatic spending cuts about to go into effect, the Associated Press reports, “President Barack Obama will ask Congress to come up with tens of billions of dollars in short-term spending cuts and tax revenue to put off the automatic across the board cuts that are scheduled to kick in March 1, White House officials said Tuesday.”

Ever since the election, Republicans have been frustrated by their lack of leverage against Obama. Taxes would have gone up by $4.5 trillion on Jan. 1 if nothing was done, so Republicans were forced to agree to limit the damage. If there were no increase in the debt limit, any economic chaos that followed would have allowed Obama to blame Republicans and distract attention from the problems posed by the nation’s mounting debt, so they agreed to suspend it — a strategy I had described as Maneuver X.

Now Republicans have turned the tables on Obama. If nothing happens by March 1, about $1 trillion worth of spending cuts will go into effect automatically. Ideally, Republicans don’t want the military spending cuts, and they have voted in the House to replace them with other cuts. But they can live with them if nothing happens. Coming off the fourth quarter in which the economy contracted by 0.1 percent and was hurt by defense cuts, Obama doesn’t want to have headlines of defense contractor layoffs eroding his political capital in the short window he has to advance his second term agenda.

His suggestion that Republicans agree to raise taxes again to delay the sequester is laughable — they have zero reason to do it. Either he agrees to spending cuts of an equal amount, or the sequester will kick in.

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