Political Animal


March 21, 2013 9:43 AM Tactics, Strategy and Substance

By Ed Kilgore

It’s hard to argue with Brian Beutler’s assessment that in the short run Democrats lost (even if in some respects Republicans did not quite win) the “battle of the sequester,” insofar as Democrats have agreed to post-sequester appropriations levels as permanent this year (which could make them permanent or at least a ceiling for the immeditate future even as most congressional Republicans congratulate themselves for a spending reduction not accompanied by new revenues.

But the thing about congressional Republicans is that they don’t do too well with tactical victories, in part because of a conservative wing that views any “win” as hollow if it doesn’t bring Democrats weeping to their knees. There’s already right-wing grumbling on the refusal of the GOP to force a government shutdown over demands to defund Obamacare. And instead of calling it a day after the sequester and letting 2014 be a “referendum” on fiscal policy (which would be smart because the landscape for the midterms definitely tilts in their direction), conservatives are now talking once again about taking the debt limit hostage for impossible concessions on Obamacare, entitlements, or even a balanced budget constitutional amendment.

So fortunately for the White House and congressional Democrats, hope springs eternal so long as the occasional small tactical setbacks don’t add up to a big strategic—or substantive—defeat. And there’s the rub.

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.


  • Holmes on March 21, 2013 9:58 AM:

    If the Republicans won in the short term, with I don't really believe, it was almost entirely due to the MSM making it all about Obama, his golf game and the WH tours.

    Local news coverage is/was a lot different, and some of the wingnuts in congress are already hearing from their constituents.

    Let's see how this plays out as the effects of the sequester worsen in the next couple months.

  • c u n d gulag on March 21, 2013 9:58 AM:

    And of course, the MSM provides cover, as always, for the Republicans obstructionism and Nihilism.

    The "Sequester" is now living proof for the MSM, that, "See! Both sides do it!"

    Onwards to the "Debt Ceiling - 'See! Both sides do it!'" battle in the summer!!!

    If the late David Broder had trained Mina Birds Pavlov-style, he couldn't have gotten as consistent a result as the DC MSM.

  • T2 on March 21, 2013 10:05 AM:

    The Media allowed the "it's Obama's sequester" line to go unchallenged and that should surprise no one. Accordingly his ratings on handling the economy are tanking. You could almost believe the Corporate Media ownership is trying to subvert Obama and keep eyes off the GOPs plan to stunt the recovery (from the Recession they caused).

  • Ronald on March 21, 2013 10:11 AM:

    I disagree that the Republicans 'won' the sequester. It is all how they 'percieve' such things.
    Polls down? Ignore them, we're winning!
    Lost the election. Nope! We won because we say we did!
    Sequester cuts? Meh, at least tax rates on the rich didn't go up so that's a win!

    It is typical Republican denial and complete ignorance of the reality of their positions and policies.

  • c u n d gulag on March 21, 2013 10:14 AM:

    Which all might mean something, if our MSM pointed that out.

    But they don't.
    As evidence - pick any Sunday bloviation festival.

    So, the only ones who are aware of that, for the most part, are Liberal bloggers and their readers.

  • Josef K on March 21, 2013 10:22 AM:

    And there’s the rub.

    Indeed, given we have an Administration that (for reasons I cannot begin to fathom) believes it must get some Grand Bargain from the GOP. I'm not sure they could even define what this Grand Bargain would result in or why its so vital to the country.

    Put another way, there's no reason to think the Administration or the Democrats will find some way of defeating themselves.

  • david1234 on March 21, 2013 10:32 AM:

    I think the Democrats should clearly stake out the position of being willing to postpone or repeal the sequester without conditions. Then the Republicans will own it completely. It will be clear that they taking hostages to get cuts to Social Security and Medicare that the people do not want.
    Instead the Democrats go along with it to try to force Republicans to vote for an increase in taxes, and rightly deserve blame for taking hostages to get what they want.

  • Ron Byers on March 21, 2013 10:37 AM:

    When are you all going to realize, both sides got what they wanted out of sequester. Both sides wanted to cut a lot of programs that are protected by special interests. Mostly they wanted to cut defense. They couldn't because doing so would threaten their re-election cahs flow. Sequester was a really bad way to cut, but it did result in cuts.

    This crisis governing approach is going to continune because our elected leaders are a collection of media savvy grifters who understand that if cable news isn't regularly fed it will start investigating them.

    As to another debt ceiling crisis this Summer, that is what Fox News, CNN and MSNBC are praying happens.

  • bdop4 on March 21, 2013 10:50 AM:

    It's still too early to feel the effects of the sequester. People are just starting to feel the cutbacks through furloughs and reduced services.

    I think when we reach summer, and the lucky employed start taking time off and try to travel, camp in our national parks, visit museums and use other federal programs, then there will be a realization of what the sequester has wrought.

    Also, by that time, those who have lost jobs or reduced hours will be in the third or fourth month and it will start to grate on everyone.

    And we will be approaching our next "crisis."

  • JMG on March 21, 2013 10:55 AM:

    Obama can simply say the U.S. will not default because the 14th amendment forbids it, instruct the Treasury Secretary that Congress is in violation of the Constitution and maintain business as usual. Yeah, I know he's said he doesn't think he has that power. If he changed his mind, he would provoke the House to impeach him, a tactic that has worked very poorly for the GOP in the past.

  • danimal on March 21, 2013 11:24 AM:

    Danimal's Golden Rule of the GOP: Republicans ALWAYS over-reach. Don't worry if they win a tactical battle, they will always stretch their lines too far and lose the campaign. They are fundamentally unable to take Yes for an answer, because so much of their understanding and enjoyment of politics requires the humiliation of liberals. They haven't come to grips with the fact that the 1980's are long gone and the post 9/11 moment has faded completely.

    The conservative embrace of the sequester was a short-term 'victory', but as the sequester is felt, they will have a hard time blaming Obama, the Dems in Congress, or anyone but themselves.

  • smartalek on March 21, 2013 12:48 PM:

    "they [conservatives] will have a hard time blaming Obama, the Dems in Congress, or anyone but themselves."

    @danimal, I agree totally with everything you said up to this point, but -- humbly, respectfully, and regretfully -- I gotta say you lose me on this last one.
    These are Publicans we're talking about here.
    They have no problem believing six impossible things before breakfast.
    Their perceptions of what's a problem, let alone who's responsible for same, bear no relationship to reality -- and our corporate-propagandist MSM sure aren't going to disabuse them of their delusions.
    Our only hope (with half the Dem's utterly feckless and most of the rest actively with the opposition) is that most Americans are somehow able to see thru the tissue of conservatoid-corporate lies. That's so close to miraculous, under the current media circumstances, as to quite possibly count as evidence for the existence of God.

    I see Captcha is back to not just "normal," but borderline prescient:
    "reason iTyping"
    Well, I certainly hope so!

  • howard on March 21, 2013 1:38 PM:

    i personally think the left should view the sequester as a victory: amazingly, defense spending has been cut.

    let's keep that pressure up: of course, on the left we want to reallocate that money to better uses, not simply cut total spending as such, but cutting the defense budget must be a goal of the left.

  • Doug on March 21, 2013 9:32 PM:

    Josef K, have you noticed though, *every* time there seems to be the makings of a "Grand Bargain", the Republicans blow it out of the water? And why do the Republicans do that? Because taxes on the rich would go up. It's happened time after time and even gotten to the point where their collab-, I mean the MSM, have started mentioning *why* something measure is rejected - because Republicans refuse to allow increased taxes on the obscenely rich! I admit I wish the MSM would mention it a bit more often, but I guess they have to worry about their jobs, too.
    Honestly, I'm (finally!) starting to wonder if there isn't something in that "11-dimensional chess" thingy...