Republicans and Democrats Playing Chicken as Sequester Kicks In

With the sequester having taken effect at midnight on Friday, both Democrats and Republicans have good reason to set aside partisan differences and find a way do avoid draconian, economy-busting spending cuts. Unfortunately, both sides also have every reason not to do so — because both sides are hoping the other pays the price for political intransigence.

Republicans are hoping that the danger of a slowing economy will dent President Barack Obama’s approval ratings, which have jumped since his re-election in November. Democrats, meanwhile, are hoping that the public will once again see Republicans as the villains, willing to tie the economy to the tracks to score political points. Both sides are hoping that the other side will flinch first — and that has made at least short-term progress non-existent.

This is not to say that both sides are equally at fault for the current impasse. Democrats have repeatedly offered to accept a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes to balance the budget, while Republicans have been reluctant –to say the least — to accept any increased revenue whatsoever. Republicans have so far only considered bills to stop the sequester that would replace cuts in the military with cuts in social programs; needless to say, this is hardly reaching out across the aisle.

Nevertheless, now that the impasse has been reached, both sides are trying to do what politicians do: use it to make their opponent look bad. Whether either side can succeed will likely determine how — and if — the worst effects of the sequester can be avoided.

A Matter of Timing

Both sides are aware of one simple fact: the sequester does not kick in all at once. It will take time to wind down some of the programs that will be cut, and more time for those cuts to impact the economy. If a deal is reached sometime in March, the worst effects of the sequester could still be avoided.

For Democrats, the playbook is simple: once again paint the Republicans as a hopeless party of “no,” standing athwart reality, yelling “stop!”… make the sensible part of the GOP caucus uncomfortable with the ongoing political fallout over spending cuts, especially to the military … eventually force the sensible wing of the party to yet again push John Boehner to ditch the Hastert Rule, and allow a vote on a bipartisan bill that can earn enough GOP and Democratic votes to pass both houses. This is a tested strategy, one that’s already helped avoid the fiscal cliff and pass the Violence Against Women Act.

For Republicans, the strategy is different. The GOP is remarkably unpopular, with only 19 percent of Americans approving of Congressional Republicans. That may seem like bad news, but it does mean that if the public responds angrily to the sequester with a “pox on both their houses” mentality, the GOP has less to lose. With support in the teens, it’s hard to imagine the GOP’s popularity falling any farther. Meanwhile, Barack Obama and Democrats are relatively popular; anger at politics in general will hurt them more than it will hurt Republicans, since most Americans already despise Republicans.

That may sound like a ridiculous strategy, but it has been used by Republicans before, in 2011 during the debt ceiling crisis. Republicans damaged their brand significantly, but they also managed to hurt Democrats and the President in the process, forcing the White House to ultimately propose the sequester as a way to get something — anything — through.

Not Just the Sequester

The sequester is not the only battle looming. There is no general agreement among Democrats and Republicans on the next fiscal year’s budget, and that means that the potential looms for a government shutdown if a continuing resolution isn’t passed by March 27. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says he’ll push the House to pass the resolution, but Boehner’s control of his caucus is hardly robust.

While a shutdown would be disastrous, the threat of a shutdown does allow both parties a way out of the game of chicken they’re playing with the economy. Negotiations over the budget can and should include ways to deal with the sequester, allowing the government to balance its books without driving the country into recession.

If Republicans could take yes for an answer, both parties could put together a budget that included some spending cuts, some increased revenue, and an ultimate path to fiscal responsibility without austerity. That would raise both parties’ standing with the public, and be good for the country, too. It’s not as fun as smashing your opponent to bits, but when you and the country get smashed to bits too, that process loses is appeal.

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Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra3 years ago

Thank you Jeff, for Sharing this!

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

This reminds me of Y2K, much ado about nothing.

What we need is some strong leadership on both sides that can manage to get SOMEthing done!

Brian F.
Brian F.3 years ago

The GOP has destroyed America. Starting with the late president Reagan, who dismissed clean renewable energy and set us on a path to dirty fossil fuels, and kept us addicted to dirty polluting oil.

That horrible failed scumbag George Bush led us into war based on lies and cut taxes for the rich. Both decisions were the worst blunders in our countries history. Bush took a surplus, and turned it into the largest debt of all time.

The criminal 112th do nothing republican congress was a national disgrace, and set a record for filibustering everything Obama tried to pass because they are racist and want to take back the country, Finnish destroying it, and serve the billboards Koch Brothers.

Republicans undermine the EPA and our environment by blocking clean wind, solar, geothermal, wave, and biomass power in favor of dirty oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power which is polluting and destroying our planet. Republicans are dirty liars who are bought and paid for by dirty coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear industries.

Brian F.
Brian F.3 years ago

Republicans have destroyed America. Years of expensive wars based on lies, tax breaks and loopholes that allow the rich to avoid paying taxes. Undermine the EPA and allowing corporate polluters to pollute the earth. Dirty criminal liars like Paul Ryan who wants to eliminate social security and Medicare. Republicans are bought and paid for by the billboare Koch Brothers.

Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad3 years ago


Brian F.
Brian F.3 years ago

Paul b In addition your criminal republican party blocks the EPA, and ignores science that humans are causing global warming. Your republican party is bought and paid for by the dirty coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear industries, that are polluting and destroying this earth. Republicans only care about money and are The biggest problem with America

Brian F.
Brian F.3 years ago

Paul b You lost the election. Get over it. Your horrible failed former president destroyed this country by spending 2 billion a week on the Iraq war that was based on lies. The Iraq war was the greatest foreign policy blunder in our history. The Bush tax cuts for the rich bankrupted our country and made the rich, richer than at any time in history, while our poor suffered.

Your dirty criminal republican 112th congress did nothing, but set a record for filibusters, and block everything Obama tried to pass, because they are racist, and want Obama to fail so they can take back the country, Finnish destroying it and serve their corporate masters.

Republicans only care about rich people and ar re bought and paid for by the billKoch brothers

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

Isn't it great the way Paul B. comes here, regurgitates the latest bunch of fox news lies and garbage and then tells us to "wake up"?

Wow, the insanity of the right wing bubble is just amazing!

Paul B.
Paul B.3 years ago

S/B acceptance of "military" spending reductions. If this $85 billion is so traumatic... we are screwed as a country for we will need to reduce spending 10 fold of that amount... at least.

IMO, this is purely political maneuvering on the part of this administration. Reps have caved on the first debt ceiling raise with no cuts, the end of year tax hikes with no cuts, and I am glad to see that although this was the wrong way to cut spending, the Dems had a choice but they intentionally chose to take the hard road and do sequestration rather than cut more appropriately intentionally inflicting as much pain,,, simply to make a point... on the American people as possible so he can blame Reps for not "cooperating" when it is Obama and Sen Dems led by Reid who are the ones NOT cooperating. Just look at the facts, not the WH rhetoric being disseminated.

Paul B.
Paul B.3 years ago

Robert, wrong again... Republicans are actually tracking center with immigration reforms, tax overhaul, spending cuts, acceptance of spending reductions, willing to consider gun control measures. Have you read much real news or simply the force feds lies and distortions from the leftist media who WANT to believe just that... to continue the empty hatred simply because they want you to, to further their cause.

Most of what you read is only what THEY want you to know. Knowledge is king, state-run control of the media, the message, everything is exactly what creates things like Nazism to spread and be accepted by the people. They never really knew what they were agreeing to until it was too late to go back. Most just sat by and watched, like the low information voters here in the US. They live on soundbites from the MSM, Obama's constant false rhetoric on TV and popular show appearances... funny how he rarely makes the critical interviews, almost always fluff stuff.

I am not comparing Obama tot Hitler, although the similarities are great, but the tactics used to control and take power are very similar indeed. Information exchange is too great, many more outlets for news making it MORE difficult to control the message, but this administration is a master at it anyway.