President Obama said Tuesday he wants Congress to find another way to cut spending, arguing that the across-the-board cuts known as the sequester would jeopardize job growth. He's betting that the combination of his bully pulpit and the continued unpopularity of the Republican party brand will allow him to score political points and forestall the cuts he's long sought to avoid.
But there's plenty of reason to be skeptical that he'll get everything he wants. Here are four political realities surrounding the sequester debate.
1. Obama is still on offense. During the negotiations over the fiscal cliff, the president balked at budging on his revenue targets for the Bush tax rates. Now, he's betting that the public will be behind his proposal for a short-term package to reduce the deficit and close tax loopholes. Central to the president's argument is that the sequester cuts that take effect on March 1 are too economically damaging to allow going forward. "There's no reason that the jobs of thousands of American who work in national security or education or clean energy, not to mention the growth of the entire economy, should be put in jeopardy just because folks in Washington couldn't come together to eliminate a few special-interest tax loopholes or government programs that we agree need some reform," he said. Obama is aiming to cast himself as reasonable. Why should the cuts be across the board? If we have to have cuts, why not make them strategically? It's the old scalpel-vs.-hatchet argument.
2. Republicans will resist. The GOP is skeptical about reneging on the sequester cuts — they've grown increasingly comfortable with the prospect of them kicking in — despite the party's reputation as opposing defense cuts, which make up a major part of the sequester. Take away the sequester cuts, the president is not inclined to cut elsewhere in the budget, they argue. And some cuts are better than no cuts, according to their calculus. Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey rejected Obama's proposal: "Sorry, President Obama, but no more tax increases for even more government spending," Toomey said in a statement. Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota argued that the president is ignoring the real issue: spending. "The sooner the president realizes this, the sooner we can start working together to make smart spending reforms that grow the economy and create jobs," Thune said.
3. Predicting more short-term fixes? Since the Budget Control Act of 2011, when Congress and the president agreed to a series of deadlines they've since been seeking to push back, Washington has been unable to reach broad agreement on fiscal issues. Obama hinted Tuesday that we could see more of the same, piecemeal approach. "Let's keep on chipping away at this problem together," he said. Unwilling to risk alienating their respective bases, congressional Republicans and the president have staked out opposing positions and only later reached agreement by pushing back deadlines. You're seeing that with the debt ceiling, which was recently extended for three months, and now with the sequester.
4. No questions. Obama walked away from the lectern without responding to reporters', telling them that's why he hired press secretary Jay Carney, a sign that it's not quite time for the full-court press. Yet.