Political Animal


March 06, 2013 3:41 PM Winning Stupidly

By Ed Kilgore

If you took a power nap, or went around the corner for lunch, you may have missed the precise moment when Republicans suddenly started “winning” in their perpetual fiscal fight with the president and congressional Democrats. That’s how fast the CW changed from interpreting the fiscal game as either “apes on a treadmill staring at each other while the country goes straight to tell” or “Obama’s schooling these extremists,” to the current rapidly burgeoning belief that GOPers have routed the opposition in dealing with the appropriations sequester by—and this gives the whole thing its zen charm—doing nothing.

As Jonathan Chait explains, “doing nothing” to stop the sequester meant Republicans were able to boast the one available fiscal achievement—a reduction in funding for most non-entitlement federal spending—that didn’t involve blowing up the global economy or shutting down the government. All it took (and I don’t want to belittle this accomplishment) was to get virtually all congressional Republicans talking about the sequester as a no-brainer kind of down payment on real spending cuts before the military-industrial complex could get to them to object.

Better yet, the across-the-board nature of the sequester (at least among the non-exempt categories) kept the cuts relatively abstract, which is exactly how the public likes ‘em.

Hence the “victory”: do as little as possible and bring back a trophy that’s both shiny and insubstantial.

But as Chait observes, this only works so long as the entire country continues to consider the sequester harmless—and as long as Republicans continue to accept the exemption from spending cuts of the very government programs they consider fiscally profligate or culturally immoral (you know, all that “redistribution”).

[I]f you define the struggle in purely zero-sum terms, Republicans can “win.” What they can win is the ability to keep in place, more or less permanently, spending reductions that both exempt the programs they most badly want to cut and that are designed stupidly so as to create maximum harm for minimum budgetary saving.

So in effect Republicans are “winning” only because they have eschewed other do-nothing fiscal strategies—fights over the debt limit and the omnibus appropriations bill—that would create greater and clearer damage, and perhaps even sacrifice victory altogether. But it’s not easy to see how they get from here to what they actually want, unless it’s just a matter of getting to 2014 and 2016 and a fresh chance to change the balance of power.

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.


  • c u n d gulag on March 06, 2013 4:28 PM:

    The problem is, that the MSM treats every single day as if it's an entirely different ballgame.

    Ah, the Democrats hold their own!
    "BOTH sides do it!!!"

    If this same MSM was around during the Civil War, the North, after a couple of years of what could be considered defeats, would have been forced to pack it in.

    And today, the British and French, and maybe even many Russians, would be speaking German, since their losses at the beginning of the war would have been considered 'game-enders.'

    A lot of the "Sequester" poo-poo hasn't hit the ventilating blades yet, MSM folks.

    But, the MSM's got's to do, what they got's to do!
    Which is what they've been doing for well over 30 years.

    And best of all - just look at how NO careers have been at all damaged for being repeatedly WRONG for the last 30+ years!

    Why bother to try to be right, when being wrong leads to just a long and lucrative a career?!?!?!
    Who give s sh*t?!?!?! This is a great racket!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous on March 06, 2013 4:39 PM:

    "All it took (and I don't want to belittle this accomplishment) was to get virtually all congressional Republicans talking about the sequester as a no-brainer kind of down payment on real spending cuts..."

    What? Boehner and company spent weeks trying to rebrand it as "Obamaquester". Very few if any were bragging about the cuts, stupid or otherwise. I don't know where you and Chait have been.

  • gdb on March 06, 2013 4:44 PM:

    True filibuster reform (i.e., end it) should have been the first item BHO pressed for four years ago. Had he done so, the 2010 House would have almost-certainly stayed Dem and todat we'd have 5-6% unemployment,a growing economy, and real health care reform--- not some hard to understand uinsurance reform. Even today, BHO and the current crop of most Dem Senators don't "get it".

  • Neo on March 06, 2013 6:42 PM:

    Fitch Ratings says even after the sequester, America still needs another $1.6 trillion in deficit reduction to be on a sustainable path and another $3 trillion to put the nationís debt-to-GDP ratio on a downward trajectory.

    What winning is anybody talking about ?
    We are all still losing.