Political Animal


February 21, 2013 1:00 PM Making the Sequester Slightly Less Stupid

By Ed Kilgore

TPM’s Brian Beutler reports today that Senate Republicans are mulling over offering as their own “replacement plan” for the appropriations sequester a provision that would give agency administrators flexibility to implement the required cuts as they wish (at least for the remainder of the fiscal year) so long as the overall spending targets are met. In other words, the deliberately hammer-headed method of cutting appropriations across-the-board would be abandoned, although the more general stupidity of pretending the non-exempt agencies and programs deserve this level of cuts will be left in place.

Beutler figures Senate Democrats will vote this approach down in the process of passing their own “replacement” bill requiring an entirely different deficit reduction formula that includes revenues, which in turn is DOA in the House. So he considers the whole idea just another ploy to shift blame when the dire effects of the sequester go live.

Maybe so, but I gotta say the White House ought to at least consider some way to quietly encourage this measure if all else fails. We obviously haven’t seen the exact language, but in effect it would give Obama administration officials (in this funding cycle, at least) the pick-and-choose power normally exercised by congressional appropriators. It would make the inherently stupid sequester less stupid, and might actually mitigate the damage.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • paul on February 21, 2013 1:08 PM:

    I don't think that the democrats should touch this one. Once there's any significant discretion, the options for working the refs are just too tempting. Every night on F*x N*ws for the rest of the year you'll have a story about how some evil Obama bureaucrat cut funds to a deserving white republican (I know, I repeat myself) district/program/contractor so they could continue to prop up lazy brown-skinned democrats and the occasional lily-livered liberal.

  • martin on February 21, 2013 1:22 PM:

    Would this mean the agency heads could target the states and districts of the loudest Tea Partiers in Congress?

    Tempting as hell.

  • Memekiller on February 21, 2013 1:24 PM:

    It also makes all the pain and hard choices of what to cut Obama's. GOP gives a number, and Obama has to make it work. Which it can't. Obama either gets to lessen the pain, making the case that the government an handle the cuts. Or Obama makes the cuts to that valued service you lose.

  • JMG on February 21, 2013 1:40 PM:

    This gives Obama the power to make the cuts in the most visible and annoying way, if he wants to do so. Like, say, furloughing every third TSA employee on Memorial Day weekend. It's amazing how the Republicans in Congress keep thinking of ways to cede constitutional powers they possess to the President they abhor.

  • Gandalf on February 21, 2013 1:45 PM:

    There's not a shadow of doubt that this is a transparent ploy by the republicaans to put the blame for any cuts that inflict pain on the Obama administartion. These people are spineless jellyfish fo crying out loud. I can't even begin to express how insane this all is.

  • rea on February 21, 2013 1:46 PM:

    Hard to beleive the tea party types would give away that much power to Obama . . .

  • schtick on February 21, 2013 1:56 PM:

    Another excuse for Obama to cave? And make cuts to everything the American people of this country doesn't want cut? No freaking way.

  • Amusing Alias on February 21, 2013 2:12 PM:

    The whole idea of the letting sequester happen is to gin up a bad economy going into next year's mid-terms. A bad economy means 2014 = 2010 in Repub minds. An improving economy means 2014 = 2012.

    (An aside: It's truly astounding how many voices on both the left and right keep shouting that what Boehner is doing "makes no sense." That's only true if you're willfully blind.)

    So Ed, how does this new Repub ploy change that dynamic at all?

  • Ron Byers on February 21, 2013 2:17 PM:

    So long as they don't exempt defense. I think Hagel should have the power to actually cut a lot of European vacation bases.

  • Peter C on February 21, 2013 2:19 PM:

    I agree with @Paul, @Meme, @Gandalf and @schtick. This isn't a move to help Obama limit the damage; this is a ploy to pin him with the blame for the pain. It's pure politics and it is lazy as hell.

  • Theophylact on February 21, 2013 2:20 PM:

    The sequester was supposed to be stupid. That's why cuts unpalatable to the Republicans as well as to the Democrats were in the package: all or nothing.

  • deanarms on February 21, 2013 2:31 PM:

    This is too much of a safety valve for the wingnuts. Any decisions made at the agency level will be attacked as stupidity by "Washington bureaucrats," and thus a mechanism to shift blame to the dems. Let the sequester hit at the most vulnerable, highest profile places, starting with air traffic controllers. When people's flights start getting delayed by days, not hours, there will be an uproar. Then just lift the whole sequester; forget about "alternative formulations." The deficit is not the problem. Unemployment and unsufficient demand is the problem.

  • bdop4 on February 21, 2013 2:42 PM:

    Gotta agree with deanarms. This could be the cattle prod that finally awakens the sleeping masses. Unfortunate that it takes an immediate, direct negative impact to jolt most voters in action.

    The primary hurdle for Dems is to make it absolutely clear that repubs are the sole cause for it.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 21, 2013 3:31 PM:


    I saw a blurb from Boehner in the paper today, apparently doing his best smug-face concern feint about "What's the President doing about the sequester, boo hoo?"

    I never felt more inspired to holler: "BITCH, please!!!"

    Wow. That's like me wondering how my boss is going to do my job while I merrily slap comments on a political blog...