Political Animal


February 19, 2013 10:48 AM Still Playing the Long Game

By Ed Kilgore

So the president’s back from Florida today, and is immediately putting public pressure on congressional Republicans to accept a sequester replacement deal involving higher revenues via loophole-closing. Giving new life to the ancient tactic known as “firemen first” (highlighting the most popular services affected by budget cuts), Obama’s posing with threatened first responders; soon we’ll have a whole cavalcade of soon-to-be-victims of the sequester marching across our TV screens.

Surely congressional Republicans will cave, eh? If their most prominent line on the sequester is to blame it on Obama, can they really resist a deal? And will their friends in the military-industrial complex ever forgive them for what’s going to happen to defense contractors under the sequester?

I don’t know about that last question, but yes, Republicans are almost certain to prefer the horrors of the sequester to any further backsliding on revenues; in that respect, their “flinch” in the “fiscal cliff” fight made future deals less, not more likely. Salon’s Steve Kornacki explains why Obama’s current full-court-press is based on an assumption that Republicans have probably done all the deals they are going to do before the midterm elections:

it makes sense for the White House to push hard now and test just how far the GOP is willing to budge in its somewhat confused current state. But there’s probably a longer-term calculation at work too, one rooted in a recognition that there’s only so much Obama can achieve with Republicans running the House - and that there’s only so far those Republicans will ultimately go.
This explains why in his State of the Union Speech Obama was so emphatic about simply calling for a vote on his gun control agenda - to the point that he even told members of Congress that “you can vote ‘no’ if you want.” This reflects the D.O.A. status of several Obama proposals. A renewed ban on assault weapons, for instance, would have almost no chance of clearing the House, and maybe even the Senate. The prospects for limits on high-capacity magazines aren’t much better.

Run through the rest of Obama’s recently announced agenda, and with the exception of immigration reform, where Republicans have their own reasons for wanting an agreement, prospects are even worse than with gun control.

Some Democrats will say Obama is positioning his party for the kind of big gains in 2014 that will enable him to go out with a bang in the last two years of his presidency. Realistically, that’s not likely to happen.

In a very real sense, the two parties may just be maneuvering for long-term advantage, with the next “breakthrough” election for either side being 2016.

I suggested last week that this may be the real explanation for the president’s notably upbeat tone of late: aside from emergencies, much of his work is done, in the sense that he has some real accomplishments and is largely preempted from having any more of them. He’ll do what he can to make sure Republicans take the blame for the sequester, and then will fight to undo some of the damage in the immediately ensuring negotiations over the expiration of the continuing resolution on appropriations. But assuming Republicans have permanently eschewed the threat of a debt default, March should close the curtain on the last regularly scheduled fiscal crises until the midterms or perhaps even longer. Obama’s “long game” may be focused on partisan dynamics that will play out when he’s playing golf a lot more regularly.

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.


  • Steve M. on February 19, 2013 11:01 AM:

    If there's a next breakthrough election, it's going to be 2018, two years after we stupidly elect Marco Dreamboat and a GOP-majority House and Senate, and then are shocked when they go Full Metal Koch on us. Too bad it'll probably be too late to undo the Scott-Walker-on-steroids agenda by then, but hey, we thought Marco D would be a swell guy to have a brew with, so that's what we get.

  • bleh on February 19, 2013 11:05 AM:

    And for this, these assclowns will be paid salaries, given staffs and offices, offered gold-plated healthcare, etc., all on the taxpayers' dime.

    I would love to see a "sequester" of Congressional expenditures. Say, about 50% of them...

  • Josef K on February 19, 2013 11:26 AM:

    Salonís Steve Kornacki explains why Obamaís current full-court-press is based on an assumption that Republicans have probably done all the deals they are going to do before the midterm elections

    That's likely right. God help us. I suppose how much of the country survives this madness will depend upon when the next major disaster strike, and where. I take it as a kind of inevitability that one is coming.

  • c u n d gulag on February 19, 2013 11:35 AM:

    Obama could do what he can to make the "sequestration" cuts take effect more in Red states and districts. Or at least make it look that way - if for no other reason, than to p*ss-off the Conservatives.

    And I'm with Steve M., above.

    The Republicans can't change right now. They need to hold the House in 2014, and see if they can gain back the Senate - or, at least, make some gains.

    Then, in 2016, they'll put the old "Compassionate Conservative" lipstick on that dipstick, Marco Rubio, and see if they can't sell him to the American people.

    The Conservatives will be in on all of the dog-whistling amidst all of Marco's kumbaya message, and so they'll know that he's going to be a good little Conservative meat-puppet, like Reagan and George W. Bush were. And that he'll have the interests of the wealthy and corporations at heart, and not the American people.

    The question is, will enough of the American people fall for this?
    And they very well might. Considering that they're still thinking of changing the Electoral College votes in certain states - and, Americans are gullible!

    Then, with President Rubio in the Oval Office, they can finalize their work on destroying The New Deal, and The Great Society.

    Or, maybe Hillary, or some other Democrat, can beat then like rented red-headed step-mules in 2016.

    Yes, let's hope that's the case.

    Because, another loss, especially a big one, in 2016, WILL finally break the Conservative's fever, once and for all - or, for at least a decade.

  • Bo on February 19, 2013 11:39 AM:

    It is looking more and more like the GOTea will follow in Gingrich's disastrous "shut it down" footsteps next month. I can only hope that it will have negative political consequences for them . . . and is not a long-term negative for the fragile recovery that we are presently experiencing. If it is, there is no question who should receive the majority of the blame despite their silly protestation that the sequester "is Obama's idea".

  • Peter C on February 19, 2013 11:50 AM:

    Like it or not, at this point the sequester is law. If it is to be undone, it can't be lifted by executive order; it must be undone by legislation. That is Congress' job. I'd like Reid to put forward a simple bill to eliminate the entire sequester, pass it using reconcilliation, and send it to Bohner. Then all the focus will be on the dysfunction of the House under Republican control.

  • paul on February 19, 2013 12:11 PM:

    Back of the envelope says that the sequester will indeed have a harder impact on red states, because they tend to be more dependent on federal money (both subsidies and contracts) to keep their economies running.

    No doubt the conservatives will explain how this is Obama's fault for trapping them into a culture of dependency.

  • David Martin on February 19, 2013 12:24 PM:

    I think my congressman, Bill Posey, is all in favor of not raising the debt limit. On the other hand, he's been believing that putting a lid on debt wouldn't harm two big factors in the district, NASA and the military. The Sequester show otherwise.

  • JM917 on February 19, 2013 2:03 PM:

    Frankly, I'm hoping that the sequester and/or a GOTea-inflicted shutdown do occur, and that this is sufficiently disruptive to shock Middle America into how pig-headed the whole damned Republican enterprise is. Disruptive and shocking, that is, but quick enough in producing a backlash before real economic damage occurs.

    Second, I'm hoping that the modest gun-control initiatives that Obama and (most) of the Dems are now putting forward founder on the rock of NRA/GOTea resistance--and that this stubbornness serves as a wake-up call to Middle American women, who (Mimikatz is right here) are coming to see child safety as the bigger issue than the gun-rights culture that motivates far too many males. Again, I can hope for the failure of effective gun-control legislation and administrative actions simply because nothing that's realistically on the table now is going to do much to curb the rampant gun violence that afflicts the country.

    Third, I hope that all attempts to forge "reasonable compromises" on immigration also fail--because, frankly, the only solution is general amnesty for all law-abiding and hard-working immigrants, whatever their legal status. Failure right now, however, will confirm to Latinos of all kinds (except maybe the elderly Cubans) that the GOTeas are the new Know-Nothings, bent on keeping America forever white.

    Hell, I even half-hope that the enraged and cornered animals of the GOTea House caucus try to impeach Obama. Let the country see how THAT works out.

    And so, with those dismal near-term outcomes churning us up, let's go into the 2014 midterms. Perhaps--here's my hope--women (especially re: the gun issue), Hispanics (re: immigration and nativism), and even some white males (re: general disgust at GOTea mischief-making and negativism) can be stirred up by a sufficiently imaginative and effective GOTV effort from the Dems and the White House to hold Senate and make even a few marginal gains in the House. If so, I'd expect that the GOTea diehards will double down even more with their right-wing fantasies. That should ensure a far-right GOTea presidential ticket in 2016: Rubio, Jindall, or someone even worse.

    But maybe with the Senate held in 2014, Harry Reid (or, preferably, his successor as Dem leader) will finally get up the nerve to pull the teeth of the filibuster.

    And that will set the stage for Hillary (given her health and vigor at time of her life) to lead a sweeping Dem victory in 2016. Of course, such a victory will probably still leave the GOTea in control of the gerrymandered House, but the tides will then be against them.

    So maybe in 2020 demographic changes will finally make it possible to hope for the Dems to keep (again) the White House and Senate--and FINALLY retake the House. And then--only then--will we liberals begin to start doing what needs to be done.

    That's the cost of Democrats having sat on their butts in 2010 and letting the GOTea take the House and so many state legislatures: TEN YEARS of stalemate.

    I'm resigned to being dead by then. Let's hope that climate change hasn't meanwhile started to boil the oceans.

  • Doug on February 19, 2013 7:39 PM:

    "Realistically, that is not likely to happen (based on the limited information we have at this time)."
    Fixed it for you, Mr. Kilgore.