Sequestration and The Blame Game (U.S. Politics of the Same Name)

Arguments from ‘Dubya’ apologists have been consistent, even if implicit.  In fact, until Rubio’s SOTU response, I thought mainstream Republican attitudes toward taxes and spending may have relaxed somewhat.  Romney was interested in closing loopholes for the rich, Obama was interested in that and more and a fun race was had by all.  Arguments about the economy at large, whether on FOX, CSPAN, or your Thanksgiving table, always devolve to the question of inheritance versus ownership.  

It is an inconvenient distinction for both parties, because if Republicans are willing to concede that Bush, for the most part, got his way concerning economic decisions–they must admit that a combination of low taxes and high spending are bad economic policy and therefore led us to the recession.  Republicans seem to have conceded this, given their quiet disinheritance and insistence on low taxes AND low spending–a return to Reagan’s “government is the problem” credo.  It is inconvenient for Obama because at what point is a crappy recovery the recession’s fault and at what point is it his?  This is invariably the end of the argument because neither side has a satisfying answer, yet it remains the crux upon which all economic faith is placed by either party.  Democrats think recoveries are slow and that obstructionism is all that holds a burgeoning Obama economy back.  Republicans think that the cost of Obamacare, meeting regulations, and the rising cost of energy and petrol deter business growth.  

I can easily concede both, but there are a couple of things that distinguish those administrations.  President Bush faced both new forms and a new level of partisan media, but after 9/11 was seldom obstructed in implementing economic policy.  Unfunded prescription-drug provision added to an already unsustainable Medicare?  No problem.  Two wars on a credit card?  No problem.  Should the country make wartime sacrifices?  No; don’t let the economy suffer on that account.  Spend your way to prosperity and give everyone tax breaks.   
 
I won’t say that plenty of Democrats didn’t vote for what were effective ways to squander a surplus, because they did. But he did not face people dubious of his citizenship, religion, and gun-slinging, record-high filibustering, and a Congress so partisan and unproductive as to poll in the single digits.  Bush, for the most part, ran the economy the way Bush wanted to–Obama has only been allowed to pass bills that they can later point to as failures–recovery rather than investment measures. 
 
The other, again, is that Bush had a surplus, while Obama had a growing debt problem, partly because baby-boomers were getting old, and partly because you can’t just yank 100,000 soldiers out of the Middle East.  Neither Bush nor Obama fits the Keynesian or Friedmanian model very well.  Bush grew government and lowered taxes, and Obama has slowed debt growth by taxing the rich slightly, taxing the middle class by a few percent and requiring that they pay for their medical coverage (unlike Medicare), shifting some Medicare costs to Obamacare as it slowly takes effect, and drawing troops out completely by 2014.  So Obama is handling a fragile economy as if it were, well, fragile– and as excruciatingly long a recovery as it’s been, it has still been a recovery.  He has resisted the urge to pour gobs of money into infrastructure investment; Krugman insists that there is no better time to borrow money, rates being what they are, and time will tell if Obama’s prudence in that area has been advised or not.  Not that this Congress has given him much option. 
 
Jobs bills are DOA in a Republican caucus, but stimulus bills have passed–bills which don’t overcome a recession, but just make it longer and slightly less painful.  Republicans are still interested in one thing from the Bush administration, the tax cuts–the Bush tax cuts, which were secured for another 10 years for those making $450,000 and over.  A deal which included modest revenues and was reached on a bipartisan basis.  Obama would’ve liked to raise marginal rates on those making $250,000, but compromised.  Republicans, unbeknownst to Obama, believed that was Obama’s one chance to get revenues, and are holding a deal to replace the sequester hostage on that premise.  
 
Obama and his aides are attempting to clean their hands of the sequester, clarifying the argument by straying from the messy politics that led to it.  ‘The rich aren’t paying their fair share’ is much clearer than ‘I goaded congress into passing a debt trigger that was designed to be equally painful to either party, so we might a year and a half later find cause to compromise.’  I will not deny there’s some cynicism in the decision to distance himself from the sequester in that way, but it’s quite a bit more cynical for the GOP to take after Bush by handing Obama an economic time-bomb and blaming Democrats when it explodes.  
 
The sequester is a bitter pill that the GOP has decided not to swallow but rather slingshot down the president’s throat.  The GOP didn’t want the sequester either, but rather than agree to something which is bound to include more revenues, they will take the hit to defense spending and hamstring Obama’s economy.  They will of course frame it as being the only way they were going to be able to enact cuts, which naturally is a distortion of the facts.  Obama has suggested a 2-1 package, 1.2 trillion in cuts and 600 billion in revenues over the next 10 years.  
 
Karl Rove thinks people are wise to the Republican strategy and recommends, in this case, they flip the script–that is rather than being seen as once again blocking movement on a fix to the sequester, give Obama the freedom to administer that proverbial scalpel.  Rove knows that Republicans will eventually cave once the pressure of lost jobs looms even larger after March 1st, and that Republicans could use the popularity points with the public right now.  Rove also knows that smarter cuts are only intended to prevent lost jobs, not grow new ones.  The benefit to Republicans is in being seen as non-obstructionist as opposed to damaging Obama’s economy, especially when the risk of being blamed for it is quite high.  
 
What it also aims to do is give Obama full credit for what he knows is not a growth strategy, per se, but a proactive measure to prevent job loss. Giving him leeway on what has very limited potential for economic movement will not only make Republicans look good, but make Obama’s policies look what they admittedly are, slow-acting.  What is slow-acting to one voter is as good as ineffective to another, and that is the GOP’s long-view subterfuge.   The GOP is counting on liberals to get sick of vindicating Democrats in 2016.  The SOTU was part of Obama’s long game.  The ‘ultra-liberal’ agenda he laid out was to remind the left what could be if not for a Republican Congress.  
 
The blame game has become the operative political strategy for both parties, and while it is certainly not preferable to a cooperative government, these games of chicken are all that impels our government to act.  Productivity is now met by paroxysm rather than long-considered compromise.  My hope is this is not the new standard of getting things done in Washington, but for now it certainly looks that way.  
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Author: The Blue Route

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