When Did Democrats Fail On Sequestration?

Ezra Klein writes:

The Democrats have lost on sequestration

The Democrats have lost on sequestration. That’s the simple reality of Friday’s vote to ease the pain for the Federal Aviation Administration. By assenting to it, Democrats have agreed to sequestration for the foreseeable future.

This is a curious conclusion. After all, the deal is to restore $253 million to the FAA, relative chump change in terms of the federal budget. Is this really the moment Democrat "lost" on sequestration? Not really. Ezra writes:

Recall the Democrats’ original theory of the case: Sequestration was supposed to be so threatening that Republicans would agree to a budget deal that included tax increases rather than permit it to happen. That theory was wrong. The follow-up theory was that the actual pain caused by sequestration would be so great that it would, in a matter of months, push the two sides to agree to a deal. Democrats just proved that theory wrong, too. [Emphasis supplied.]

See, the Democrats lost when they caved on the fiscal cliff without a spending agreement. The decoupling of revenues and spending is when "Democrats failed on sequestration" in the larger sense. When I first heard about the fiscal cliff deal, I reacted hyperbolically but my essential point was true:

[T]he one strong chip the President had - tax policy, is traded for unemployment insurance extensions for a year. And nothing else. Everything else Democrats hold dear is now in play. Everything. [...]

The problem with this negotiation is instead of applying a "there is no agreement on taxes until there is agreement on everything" strategy, the President and his men have handed Republicans the one issue they care about and resolved nothing that Dems care about except unemployment insurance extensions.

Ironically, given the terms of the negotiations to come, I think, in context, Democrats have not yet completely lost on the sequestration. Ezra says:

In effect, what Democrats said Friday was that in any case where the political pain caused by sequestration becomes unbearable, they will agree to cancel that particular piece of the bill while leaving the rest of the law untouched. The result is that sequestration is no longer particularly politically threatening, but it’s even more unbalanced: Cuts to programs used by the politically powerful will be addressed, but cuts to programs that affects the politically powerless will persist. It’s worth saying this clearly: The pain of sequestration will be concentrated on those who lack political power.

But is that necessarily true? The big money in the sequester, at least from the GOP view, remains defense spending. They do not value it like they value tax cuts for the rich, but in the sequestration world, that remains the Dems' big chip. And what is most worrying is the president;s penchant for pre-concession, in this case regarding defense spending:

Guess what? The White House still doesn’t like [defense spending] cuts. And Obama’s new budget, released [April 10], makes this clear. Although the White House doesn’t advertise this fact in the six-page budget overview it put out this morning, the new budget eliminates nearly all of the cuts that sequestration imposes on the Pentagon. Instead of $500 billion in cuts, Obama proposes only $100 billion, and you have to look closely to spot it (“$200 billion in additional discretionary savings, with equal amounts from defense and nondefense programs”).

Like Chained CPI, the president's penchant for pre-concessions remains a huge problem. If this is not stopped, this is where the smaller battle on sequestration will be lost, and it is likely to be lost by the president himself. If he can stop doing this, the sequestration battle can at least be fought to a draw.

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    First of all, "sequestration" was not (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by KeysDan on Sat Apr 27, 2013 at 03:32:51 PM EST
    dropped in on us from outer space.  It was passed by the Senate and House and signed into law by the president.  It would not be surprising for Congress to be irresponsible in its law making, but it is particularly dangerous for a president to agree to such irresponsibility in the belief that these legislators, especially after their proved behavior, would come to their senses once they realized just how badly their  own oxen would be gored--military/national security for Republicans, social programs for Democrats. And, it is questionable just how clear a political demarcation exits these days.

    Second of all, the president has, as pointed out, jolted the already shaky premise of the Act's draconian leverage by offering up reductions in social programs and showing reluctance to the extent of military expenditure reductions.

    It is, in my view,  difficult to fix the point at which the Democrats lost sequestration, but  the American people lost with discussions of budget cutting at a time of a still weak economy, particularly, continued high unemployment.   Given the situation, relieving the pain for Federal Aviation was a gain. We can only hope that this will set the course for continued legislative patchwork that seeks to ameliorate most of the damage.

    12 Programs Congress Refuses To Save (5.00 / 2) (#7)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 27, 2013 at 07:09:26 PM EST

    1. Long-term unemployment
    2. Head Start
    3. Cancer treatment
    4. Health research
    5. Low-income housing
    6. Student aid
    7. Meals On Wheels
    8. Disaster relief
    9. Heating assistance
    10. Workplace safety
    11. Obamacare (various programs)
    12. Child care


    Is there a point at which Dems figure out (5.00 / 4) (#8)
    by Anne on Sat Apr 27, 2013 at 07:15:15 PM EST
    that the kabuki we're calling "pre-concession" is really just a back door to get what he wanted and where he wanted all along?

    And start opposing it?  Calling it out for what it is?

    I'm beginning to think not; I think there's a paralysis that's settling in from being forced to choose between their own self-interest - which is huge -  and that of the people they are supposed to represent.  

    I don't know, maybe these Democrats don't want to represent poor people, or old people or sick people or the jobless or the homeless or the average person just trying to to the best they can with what they have anymore; maybe they just want us to go away so they can get back to living the good life, and convincing themselves that they're making a meaningful contribution to the country.  

    Because I'm not even sure, at this point, if they'd put up much of a fight against these terrible policies if Obama announced tomorrow that he was changing his party affiliation to Republican; they didn't exactly cover themselves in glory when we had a Republican in the WH, did they?  

    I don't want to say "it's over," but I think that's more that I can't bear to face what that means if it is than that I have much hope that it isn't.

    Headlines from Obama friendly TPM (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 27, 2013 at 07:44:49 PM EST
    Cantor Brags That Dems Caved On Sequestration

    Democrats Blink On FAA Furloughs  

    Wonder if there will ever come a time when the Dems in Congress will tire of being played the fool.

    When are Dem voters going to reach (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by Anne on Sat Apr 27, 2013 at 09:06:53 PM EST
    that point?  Probably never, as long as they can be convinced that "the other guys are worse."

    I guess it keeps people from looking too hard at what separates "worse" from "better," and keeps the bar really, really low.

    If anyone's being played, it's the people who have to suffer the consequences of voting for people who don't really give a damn about us - I'm really not convinced most of the Dems in Congress are doing more than phoning it in; there's really no down side for them no matter what they do.  

    If karma really is a bitch, I hope I live long enough to see her in action...


    I basically agree with you (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 27, 2013 at 10:01:34 PM EST
    I guess the kabuki requires the Dems look like they dropped the ball when more likely than not they are seeking the same agenda of rob the poor to give to the rich as the Republicans. Publicly looking like incompetent idiots is necessary to maintain the illusion of a two party system.

    Still I personally would think that being humiliated on a regular basis could be tiresome.


    Agreed. (none / 0) (#13)
    by KeysDan on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 11:07:11 AM EST
    This tact is straight out of the Ed Meese book of defense: corruption masquerading as incompetence.  

    The Democrats inCongress are fools if (4.89 / 9) (#2)
    by caseyOR on Sat Apr 27, 2013 at 02:49:15 PM EST
    they continue to do the bidding of this president. They need to flat out oppose him on things liked chained CPI, cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and other sequestration nonsense that is hurting the poor and what is left of the middle class. The Dems need to say a resounding "No" to any further deficit fever. If the Democrats do not fight back against Obama they will find themselves on the losing end of the midterm election just like in 2010.

    Oh, and while we all hate airport delays, this saving of the controllers comes suspiciously close to Congress' planned recess which would see the Senators and Representatives lined up like the cattle the rest of us treated as at the airport.

    Oh yeah, the FAA bill is all about (5.00 / 5) (#4)
    by ruffian on Sat Apr 27, 2013 at 03:45:21 PM EST
    the comfort of Congress and business people, there is no doubt about that. Any spending that helps them personally will be restored when the pain starts. If the Obama administration can fine tune budget cuts one by one to hurt Congress and their paymasters, it might be one one way to get rid of sequestration one bit at a time. Those of the poor and sick that are able should find ways of making life in the congressional districts miserable for their representatives.

    And I agree, the Dems should start treating Obama as a lame duck right now.


    A lame duck? No, Democrats should treat (5.00 / 5) (#5)
    by caseyOR on Sat Apr 27, 2013 at 05:28:11 PM EST
    Obama like a Republican. His policies are often aimed straight at the heart of the Democratic platform. He has done more to rejuvenate the GOP post-GW than anyone.

    Obama and his policies are bad for the Democrats and horrendous for the vast majority of Americans.


    True - I just meant they should (none / 0) (#6)
    by ruffian on Sat Apr 27, 2013 at 06:30:56 PM EST
    move on, with him or without him.

    Maybe the whole thing is hopeless with the current make-up of Congress, and the gerrymandered districts that make the chance of change so remote. I do not feel optimistic these days,


    Rejuvenating the GOP (none / 0) (#9)
    by MO Blue on Sat Apr 27, 2013 at 07:34:33 PM EST
    Here's Ezra writing about Obamacare this past week:

    Don't believe it? Some Republicans are already arguing that Ryan's Medicare premium support plan simply brings Obamacare to Medicare. "The great irony of Obama's triumph, however, is that it can pave the way for Republicans to adopt a comprehensive, market-oriented healthcare agenda," wrote Avik Roy and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, two influential Republican policy advisers. They argue that "both Representative Paul Ryan's `premium support' proposal for Medicare and Obamacare's exchanges are modeled on the Swiss system," and that Republicans should push to have Medicare beneficiaries "gradually migrate into the exchanges' premium-support systems."

    See? Republicans can go from arguing that Obamacare should be repealed to arguing that it needs to be expanded in a flash. But not until they've squeezed every political benefit from making its implementation disastrous.


    Lame him (none / 0) (#19)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 12:47:36 PM EST
    Or he takes you down.  He can always become relevant when he is promoting a Democratic policy, but other than that lame him.

    The president is conservative by nature (4.67 / 3) (#1)
    by Dadler on Sat Apr 27, 2013 at 01:03:10 PM EST
    He is psychologically ignorant (read his books, you will see it on full and sad display), and thus he can never be a good negotiator. He seems to have less of an understanding of human beings than the Republicans, whose only understanding of human beings is as commodities. Obama, like all the rest at the top, tells the same lies about fiat currency that conservatives do, blatant lies that can serve no purpose but destruction. The Democrats, the Republicans, and all Americans continue to lose, day after day, as long we as a nation live in utter delusion about the nature of our economy and currency. 21st century economics is no different than fundamentalist religion -- they both demand unquestioning fealty to dubious and faulty tenets, and they both require the rational mind to die.

    This is all simply a game, everyone is forced to play it, and everyone is forced to acquire game pieces (money) to survive. Simply design a game that allows for wealth to continue to be earned, but which at the same time treats those at the bottom with a decency and security no country in the world has even attempted. I'll say it again: phuck the roof and raise the floor. THAT is fixing the game. It's not rocket science, economics is no science at all. It's merely decency vs. greed, and in a rigged game guess which wins time and time again.

    But we'd rather consider the economy a deity, and that is the way it is dealt with, from the President to Congress to Main Street. Questioning it is like saying Jesus was a fraud. The older I get, the more I think about it, it seems clear that's what we're really dealing with: an economy controlled by people who are essentially financial religious fanatics (think the Taliban worshiping money and controlling the economy). They've come to control more of the money in this country than ever before, their share of control increases every day, and no one is doing a thing about it.

    I agree with you (none / 0) (#14)
    by Ga6thDem on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 04:29:48 PM EST
    BTD but what to do? There's nothing we can do to change Obama's lack of negotiating skills.

    You are assuming (5.00 / 4) (#15)
    by NYShooter on Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 06:32:03 PM EST
    Obama has certain goals but doesn't achieve them due to poor negotiating skills. However, his lack of negotiating skills is something all decent, responsible Americans should be grateful for. His demented obsession to become "the Democrat who destroyed Social Security" is a title the Republicans are all too willing to grant him.

    Yes (none / 0) (#18)
    by Ga6thDem on Mon Apr 29, 2013 at 10:15:44 AM EST
    his lack of support for traditional Democratic ideals has been on display for years.

    This is not lack of negotiating skills, it's (5.00 / 3) (#16)
    by Anne on Mon Apr 29, 2013 at 09:49:50 AM EST
    lack of belief in and support for what I would call traditional Democratic issues and agenda.

    I'm not sure I'd want him to be a better negotiator; if he were, it would just mean we'd be getting his brand of Republican legislation sooner, rather than later.


    Well (none / 0) (#17)
    by Ga6thDem on Mon Apr 29, 2013 at 10:14:55 AM EST
    that's a good point.