Ten Miles Square


May 03, 2013 11:40 AM Why Democrats Lost the FAA Fight, and What They Should Do Next Time

By Jonathan Bernstein

I have a new column out over at TAP on the FAA fight:

Here’s what Democrats should have done, and should be ready to do next time that a Republicans object to a specific program cut…Democrats should collect all of their sequestration complaints: Head Start, Meals on Wheels, and on and on. Next time Republicans squawk about a terrible spending cut (maybe to defense contracts?), Senate Democrats should immediately rush a bill to the floor to satisfy the Republican complaint along with a similar-sized Democratic objection. And they should satisfy those complaints, but not by giving agencies “flexibility” to take money away from some other, unspecified, program. No, they should flat-out cancel the cuts.

Lots more over there explaining why that’s the right strategy, and why Democrats were bound to lose with the strategy they were following.

Would it work? I think there’s a fairly good chance that it would. Asking Republicans to move on taxes is asking them to go back on, really, their number one campaign promise. Asking them to let the deficit get a bit bigger…well, I don’t think they really care, and I don’t think most GOP-aligned groups really care.

The fallback position, which I didn’t get into over in the column, should be for Democrats to demand that if Republicans want some sequestration cut restored then it should be Republicans who supply a specific corresponding program cut. Not agency flexibility. But again, that should be paired with a Democratic priority, even if it is paid for.

The best solution, however, is to just restore funding without pay-fors. As far as I can see, for Democrats that’s both the best politics and the best policy.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.


  • walt on May 03, 2013 8:20 PM:

    I'm not sure I'm reading this right but why whould this work? Republicans only care about specific cuts if the public cares. Clearly, the public doesn't care if Head Start or Meals on Wheels get cuts. Just don't make them wait on the tarmac for hours. Republicans know something Democrats don't: people are assholes and care primarily about themselves to the exclusion of any other social interests. That's why they're winning this battle. They'll simply restore the defense cuts later in the year. The other stuff? Maybe, maybe not. Their strategy is to damage the economy and hope the public votes for the saboteurs and not the rescuers.

  • Peter C on May 06, 2013 11:33 AM:

    "Senate Democrats should immediately rush a bill to the floor to satisfy the Republican complaint along with a similar-sized Democratic objection."

    Somehow, I think they would not receive 'unanimous consent'. Our inability to do just what you recommend is due to the failure of filibuster reform.

    Both, I think, stem from a misplaced fear of losing a political battle. I think our Democratic Party leaders (like Reid) think losing a political battle will make them weaker. I think this is a tactical miscalculation. We have to lose, and lose, and lose, in battles where we have popular support but insufficient political power. I think this is the only way to obtain the polical power we need in the future. Unilateral concession is perhaps a valid strategy for a negotiation session, but the paradigm has shifted to constant total conflict and we've got to switch with it.