Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Sequestering Grandma with the Grand Bargain

Sam Stein and Sabrina Siddiqui report on the latest austerity competition between the White House and Congressional Republicans in Obama Sequester Plan: Hope Republicans Blink First Huffington Post 02/05/2013.

Although the title implies that President Obama is in hang-tough mode, it's pretty clear from yesterday's statement from him offering up again his Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that he's using the deadline the same way he used the debt ceiling in 2011 and the "fiscal cliff" in 2012 to get his Let Grandma Eat Catfood Grand Bargain done. Stein and Siddiqui share a White House elaboration on his Tuesday pitch: "Obama would even entertain reforming entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, the White House said. An administration official later clarified that means revisiting the December 2012 discussions with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), rather than the July 2011 talks, which means far-reaching Medicare reforms remain off the table."

Here is Obama's Tuesday press statement, Obama Calls for Spending Cuts Before March Deadline PBS Newshour 02/05/2013:

The article seems to indicate that Democrats are now wanting us to panic over the defense cuts, while the Republican leadership is basically saying they're not willing to let them happen. And why not? It may be entertaining to hear Bobby Jindal call his gang "the stupid party." But they're also a Party that's continuing their fundamental opposition to Obama and the Democrats, and they are very much Keynesians when it comes to military spending. They know the sequester is a heavy enough dose of austerity that it could push the economy into a new recession and to them that looks like goods politics. After all, they can blame it on Obama, especially now that he's back in Grand Bargain mode pushing to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Because those would be his best political clubs to oppose Republican austerity. If he actually opposed austerity, which he doesn't. And if his support of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were anything more than a throwaway line in his Second Inaugural to distract labor and the general public from his Grand Bargain goal to cut benefits on those programs.

Stein and Siddiqui mention a feature of defense spending that's well-known, but not mentioned and emphasized in spending discussions nearly enough:

Democratic Rep. Jim Moran's district in Northern Virginia would be hit hard by sequestration, he said, pointing to the military contractors and industries tied to federal funding. For a while, he said he assumed that Congress would never let the cuts happen. After all, the defense industry strategically tries to have operations in all districts so that every member would feel the pressure to keep funding levels up. But now, he's resigned to inaction.

"Lately I have to tell constituents that I think the sequester is probably going to go through," Moran told The Huffington Post. "The only hope right now is that it goes through and the damage is severe enough that the Congress reverses itself after it starts to be implemented.

"There is a change in attitude within the Republican Party to be willing to cut defense," Moran continued. "And I'm a little surprised myself. But I think that some of the new members are not as protective of defense spending as others have been. They probably haven't been representing their district long enough to realize how important it is in their district or how much defense spending exists in their district.

"I think this is a Republican Party that [chairman of the House Armed Services Committee] Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) doesn't understand." [my emphasis]
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