Crack in Obama sequester wall?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Sequester and Move On! Was E.J.Dionne’s recent column the first crack in Obama’s sequester wall? Dionne’s function in the feudal D.C. order, remember, is usually to sketch a fantastic scenario in which everything works out for pro-government progressives. But right now he’s feeling pressure–time pressure. He argues that the “more time we spend on pointless disputes about budget cuts … the less we spend o solve the problems that confront us today”–e.g. the rest of Obama’s second-term agenda. Obama “needs to figure out how to end this game so he can play the one he promised.”

Dionne doesn’t specify how Obama can end the game if, as Dionne claims, the GOPs want to draw it out. But the answer is pretty obvious: Obama could cave. Accept the sequester, minimize the impact of cutting a couple of percentage points off the federal budget, settle for a deal that would delay as long as possible the Keynesian effect of the cuts on the economy. (After all, doesn’t Obama’s current strategy–exaggerating the possible impact by doing things like sending out 800,000 furlough notices–maximize the psychological damage to the economy in a way that might linger even if the actual sequester is avoided? If 800,000 employees cancel their vacation plans, does it matter so much what Washington actually does in the end?)**

Dionne’s advice seems smart, which is why I hope Obama doesn’t take it. The rest of Obama’s agenda–the one he could get to if he caves on the sequester–contains, most conspicuously, “comprehensive immigration reform” (i.e. amnesty). Since I think immigration amnesty is a misguided idea, as currently envisioned, the more time wasted on sequester the better.

And it really is about amnesty at this point. Dionne wants to spend time “pondering ways of helping the economy to grow faster, or how we might reduce joblessness, or how we can usefully invest in the future,” and “what to do about deepening economic inequality.” Those are all great discussions to have, but in terms of actual action not that much is going to happen as long as Republicans run the House. Ditto for Obama’s two non-economic legislative “priorities”–gun control and climate change. When it comes to actual new legislative victories, immigration looks like the ball game.

Now, Obama’s aides might argue the less attention paid to immigration right now, the better. The “comprehensivist” plan seems to be to spring a bill on the public and pass it quickly, before it can be picked apart. *** Why not hammer out the details secretly behind the screen of smoke coming from a “pointless” sequester battle? Then when the smoke clears, charge!

The problem with this line of thinking would seem to be 1) the press is so gaga over the prospect of amnesty it will not let negotiations be conducted privately, especially when the alternative topic is the Web Traffic cyanide of “sequester;”; 2) the idea of a quck lightning strike might work in the Senate, but then the immigration action will move to Boehner’s House. You would think he’ll have to let the “regular order” of committee hearings, etc. work its time-consuming will. Even administration’s advertised dream pathway to the pathway to citizenship doesn’t have the debate ending before summer; 3) In the course of a prolonged sequester fight, some legislators will be frustrated, egos will be injured, revenge will be vowed. That’s especially true if Obama wins the fight–why would Republicans then resolve to make achieving the rest of his agenda any easier?

 Usually I think E.J. is wrong. Now I’m reduced to hoping Obama doesn’t read him. 


**–If Obama were a different sort of politician, he might even embrace the sequester, Jerry Brown style, gaining centrist cred by being seen as the man who made it work in the face of complaints from his own party. But that’s asking him to effectively triangulate–something that doesn’t seem to be in his nature, even when he winds up adopting what are actually moderate positions (example: accepting “chained CPI“).

***– From The Hill: “Once you’ve got this thing baked, you’ve got to get it out of the oven and into the refrigerator and start eating it pretty quickly. Because if you let it sit on the table — I’m going to beat the metaphor to death — the ants will start eating the cake up.”

Mickey Kaus