Political Animal


February 22, 2013 10:04 AM Sequester “Flexibility” Double-Vetoed

By Ed Kilgore

Yesterday I discussed the “backup plan” Senate Republicans are beginning to kick around for making the impending appropriations sequester less stupid by giving federal agencies flexibility to implement cuts as they wish so long as spending targets are reached. I noticed a definite lack of interest in this possibility in the chattering classes, as Republicans continued to focus on blaming Obama for the sequester and Democrats talked about the possibility of repealing it altogether.

Turns out the budget wonk’s budget wonk, Stan Collender, addressed the “flexibility” option at his blog earlier this month, and reached this judgment:

A backup plan being discussed by Senate Republicans that would keep the sequester in place but give the departments and agencies flexibility in how they may be achieved is just as confusing but for a very different reason. The flexibility the Senate GOP wants is not acceptable to House Republicans because they’re afraid that the Obama administration will use the flexibility to cut programs, projects, and activities in Republican-held districts while adding funds in those represented by Democrats.
Meanwhile, the word from the White House is that it doesn’t want the flexibility the Senate GOP wants to provide because that could leave it open to criticism from those whose programs are cut rather than saved. The administration’s reasoning apparently is that the very strict sequester spending cut formula will mean that it cannot be blamed for the results if sequestration happens.
In other words, the sequester — the deficit reduction alternative that was supposed to be so dastardly that Democrats and Republicans alike would do everything possible to avoid it - actually has become what’s most likely to happen.

So the “less stupidity” option is facing a bipartisan veto, and worse yet, the knowledge that it would not actually happen is probably why Senate Republicans are proposing it in the first place. If that puzzles you, welcome to the wonderful world of budget politics, where reality is never close to the surface.

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.


  • mb on February 22, 2013 10:25 AM:

    It seems to me that an across the board spending cut is also much easier to implement. If the cuts are supposed to happen March 1, when would agencies have time to be more discrete about where to move money around? Prioritizing spending within a department would be a time consuming process -- perhaps unworkable. The original sin is GOP intransigence that led to this stupid sequester -- there is no remedy, or even amelioration, that propitiates for that. Only true repentance on the part of the GOP will suffice -- and that ain't happening.

  • david1234 on February 22, 2013 10:42 AM:

    Both parties recognize that the sequester is a bad thing and want to blame tha other party for it. The obvious solution is to repeal the sequester.

  • deanarms on February 22, 2013 10:48 AM:

    For once I agree with the House Republicans. I only WISH that the Obama White House was Nixonian enough to stick it to the GOP districts. But sadly, they are not. If the "flexibility" option was enacted it would be disastrous for the Democrats because "Washington Bureaucrats" (ie, Dems) would be blamed for every decision that adversely affected anyone. An across the board cut would maintain the current narrative which is just fine for our side. The only thing I would manipulate is to cut back severely on air traffic controllers so people's flights would be delayed by days, not hours. That would create an uproar loud enough to end this thing within a week.