Thursday, February 21, 2013

Boehner's dilemma and why Dems won't deal on the sequester

I've seen people trying to figure out what Speaker Boehner's game plan is on the sequester and other budget issues. A few people have pointed back to something an anonymous GOP leadership advisor was quoted as saying last month in an article at Politico.
GOP officials said more than half of their members are prepared to allow default unless Obama agrees to dramatic cuts he has repeatedly said he opposes. Many more members, including some party leaders, are prepared to shut down the government to make their point. House Speaker John Boehner “may need a shutdown just to get it out of their system,” said a top GOP leadership adviser. “We might need to do that for member-management purposes — so they have an endgame and can show their constituents they’re fighting.”
If there's any truth to that (remember, its Politico), his strategy is to appease the lunatics in the House and hold on to his job. End.of.story. It has nothing to do with any concerns about actual governing or making a conservative argument about the deficit.

When it comes to appeasing those lunatics, Jonathan Chait perfectly captured the Speaker's dilemma.
Boehner’s end goal, as explained in the op-ed, is to “reform America's safety net and retirement-security programs.” He has no proposal to do so, however. And for good reason. Cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is really, really unpopular. Boehner wants Obama to offer his own proposals to cut these programs to give Republicans political cover. But Obama won’t do that unless Republicans offer to increase tax revenue. And that is the thing they absolutely, positively refuse to concede on. (Cutting a deal on spending and revenue could cost Boehner his post.)
That's why there's no deal to be made on the sequester. Greg Sargent talked to a Senior Democratic Senate aid who spelled it out this way.
There is simply no endgame in which Dems cave and accept only spending cuts to offset the sequester, the aide insists. That’s because no set of spending cuts is preferable to the sequester, from the point of view of Dems, so there’s no incentive to make such a deal.
So despite all the noise these days about who is to blame, you can count on the sequester going into least until an overall budget showdown later in the month.

The aide Sargent spoke to basically agreed with the scenario unfolding much like I suggested a few days ago.
That “harder backstop” is the threat of a government shutdown, which gets the attention of the public — and with the GOP brand in trouble, Dems hope, it will be hard for Republicans to cling to their no-revenues-at-any-costs stance. “March is the month where negotiations will really ramp up,” the aide says.
That's where Boehner might have really backed himself into a corner. By demanding that both Houses of Congress produce a budget, he's put all the weight on Paul Ryan to propose one that balances in 10 years. Minus smoke and mirrors, that means that he won't be able to dodge the question of cuts he's been trying to force President Obama to put on the table.

As ugly as it is - the sequester is likely to go into effect March 1st. And then we wait for the release of the Senate and House budgets...and the battle that ensues over them.

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