It is worth noting how different the Democrats’ approach to sequestration has been to the GOP’s approach to, well, everything. Over the past five years, Republicans have repeatedly accepted short-term political pain to win the leverage necessary for long-term policy gain. That’s the governing political principle behind their threats to shut down the government, breach the debt ceiling, and, for that matter, accept sequestration. Today, Democrats showed they’re not willing to accept even a bit of short-term pain for leverage on sequestration. They played a game of chicken with the Republicans, and they lost. Badly.
Chait argues that “Obama’s mistake wasn’t the design of sequestration” but, instead, “finding himself in that negotiation to begin with”:
Earlier this year, Obama refused to negotiate over the debt ceiling, and Republicans caved and raised it. If he had done that in 2011, they would probably have done the same thing. Instead, Obama took their demand to reduce the deficit at face value and thought, Hey, I want to reduce the deficit, too — why don’t we use this opportunity to strike a deal? As it happened, Republicans care way, way, way more about low taxes for the rich than low deficits, which made a morally acceptable deal, or even something within hailing distance of a morally acceptable deal, completely impossible.
Weigel identifies a contributing factor:
Intuitively, voters don’t understand that a president might be hamstrung when he’s making decisions about spending. … Call it the Maureen Dowd Paradox — people are so inclined to see the president as powerful that they don’t understand how and why he might be limited legislatively.
Yglesias wonders whether Democrats will cave on the sequester’s defense cuts:
The military cuts would give me a lot of leverage vis-a-vis the GOP because I really think the United States spends wildly too much money on an agenda of global military hegemony. But that’s not what Obama thinks, and it’s certainly not what Obama says. Nor is it a line that red-state Democratic Party senators or folks plotting political strategy for the DCCC are going to want to hold. So far, Republicans keep bailing Democrats out by proposing to rescind military cuts and replace them with cuts in programs for the poor. The different wings of the Democratic Party are comfortable hanging together to oppose that and insist instead on a “balanced” alternative. But what if Republicans proposed to rescind the military cuts and replace them with nothing.
Sequestration was premised on the abiding belief among Democratic power-brokers–including the president–that Republicans and Democrats were working with equal pain thresholds. They are not. Obama underestimated his enemies, and now we are going to pay for it.