You have to give the White House its due: by hanging tough against Republican refusal to pass a so-called clean Continuing Resolution (CR) and its threats to push the country over the debt ceiling cliff, the Obama Administration got virtually everything it wanted. There were no limits or changes imposed on ObamaCare, no spending cuts and no entitlement reforms. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that the playing field will look any different in three months when the same issues resurface. Anyone who thinks that the Murray-Ryan budget committee will be able to come up with a solution to the current impasse by the mid-December deadline hasn’t been paying attention the past three years.
The problem is that the administration’s victory was so lopsided that it has left the Republicans with no choice but to hold firm on sequestration. That’s all they have and all they are likely to get until at least 2015. In effect, the White House and its Congressional allies violated a cardinal principle of good strategy: if you can’t destroy him completely, leave your enemy a line of retreat. As bad as it is, Congressional Republicans will now have no choice but to dig in, hunker down and protect what is now their sole success in reining in government spending. This means no trading of tax increases for entitlement reform; not after Republicans basically gave in on ObamaCare, the biggest entitlement program and tax increase in two generations.
Even before the dust settled on the CR/debt ceiling battlefield, various constituencies and interest groups began to re-energize their efforts to pressure Congress to find alternatives to the spending cuts imposed by sequestration. Politico reported that the leaders of the nation’s major defense companies participated in a conference call to discuss ways of convincing Congress to address the threat sequestration poses to America’s national security.
The trouble is that this kind of effort is focused on the wrong place. The only one who can solve the sequestration problem is President Obama. But he has no incentive to deal and has shown no interest in providing the leadership necessary to help Congress find a path out of the sequestration morass. The fact that sequestration cuts fall disproportionately on defense and will prove devastating to military readiness and modernization doesn’t seem to faze the Commander-in-Chief. He has shown no inclination to use his unique position and new-found political strength to provide a deal Republicans can accept. In fact, like the Allies at the Versailles Peace Conference after World War I, the President is likely to attempt to impose even more onerous terms on his defeated adversary. We all remember how well that approach worked out. As a result, sequestration is likely to remain in effect at least into 2015 and possibly for several years thereafter.
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