House Majority Leader Eric Cantor speaks during a news conference on Feb. 13 about the pending fiscal sequestration. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
I was wrong. I thought that the GOP's financial mandarins would put enough pressure on the leadership to force another compromise with the White House to avoid the dreaded financial sequester, the series of automatic defense and non-defense cuts that kick in on March 1. But there is no one Republican Party today, and no one seems to speak for the majority of the party. Speaker of the House John Boehner wants a deal and knows he can't get one and is frustrated that the White House won't negotiate with him like it used to. Eric Cantor, his deputy, seems to be waiting to figure out what everyone else thinks.
The real influential voices in the party — those who speak for the base — want the sequester to kick in. And there are five reasons, generally, why the GOP might be willing to risk the 2014 midterm elections and their majority on simply giving up and refusing to concede.
1. The White House may have oversold its victory in convincing Republicans to jettison Grover Norquist's tax pledge and for winning tax hikes with a correspondingly miniscule amount of spending cuts when the issue first came to the foreground at the end of the year. Democratic triumphalism made Republicans feel like they had lost big-time, when in fact, there really was no alternative, and the tax rates Obama agreed to were lower than those he had campaigned on. The GOP wonders: If politics is give and take, and if Democrats admit they've taken a lot, then they really have to give.
2. The sequester, many GOPers have come to believe, was Barack Obama's idea. Therefore, since it was his idea, if it happens, Republicans will be able to blame him for its consequences. First, it appears that the GOP leadership jointly developed the idea in negotiation with the White House in order to force its own conference to accept a deal on the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011. (The PowerPoint presentation you've seen is a product of those negotiations, not an original idea of Speaker Boehner's). Nevertheless, Congress approved it. The president signed it. And it's a mess, really, that the public is not going to go back and investigate for themselves. The perception is that the GOP is to blame for it — and that's kind of true. They played footsie with hot coals in the first place. But maybe, just maybe, public opinion will swing.
3. The sequester does not directly hit GOP constituencies at first. It hits government workers, primarily, in terms of layoffs and furloughs. Actual pain will first be felt by people who rely on government services that aren't entitlements. So maybe, (maybe?) soft Republicans won't be disgusted. And maybe, enough people will blame the president for the resulting economic chaos because, even if the Republicans are proximately to blame for the drop in GDP, the president is still the person most associated with the government.
4. Maybe: The best way to force the White House to make a deal is to let the sequester happen, and then let its effects swirl around a bit, and let panic set in.
5. Spending has to be cut. The sequester does it summarily, but it does indeed accomplish a core goal of the revanchist wing of the GOP.
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