There is a fierce political messaging war going on right now because of the looming sequester cuts. It ultimately raises the question of how the President should behave when faced with a partner who refuses to compromise.
Let’s work through the various positions of each of the players.
The sequester was put in place by both parties to force a compromise.
The Democrats, contrary to Republican messaging, HAVE put forward several alternatives. They all involve some degree of tax increase in addition to spending cuts. Republicans have said that they will not accept any proposals which include tax increases. The Republican did pass an alternative spending proposal in the House last year that shifted the spending burden from defense to domestic discretionary spending. Neither the Senate nor the House has passed any bills in the new Congress to provide alternatives to sequestration.
The summary is that Republicans have said that they are unwilling to discuss any of the Democratic proposals. The only available “compromise” appears to be one where Democrats make 100% of the concessions.
How is this being portrayed in the press and across the pundit spectrum?
- Some pretend that Democrats haven’t proposed any alternatives. That’s clearly not true.
- Some now admit that Democrats have proposed alternatives, but claim that those alternatives haven’t gone far enough toward some middle ground. As a result both sides are to blame for the impasse. The problem with this claim is that there is NO MIDDLE GROUND. Republicans have said that the only solutions they are willing to accept are some form of their own proposals.
- A few now admit that Republicans are unwilling to compromise, but assert that it is the President’s responsibility to either force them to change their position or “lead” them to some other magic place where a deal came be made.
An example of this third philosophy is the most recent column from David Brooks. This column was a “make good” for a previous column where he blamed everyone for the problem. In this new column he admits that Republicans are unwilling to compromise and then lays out his wishful strategy for President Obama.
My dream Obama wouldn’t be just one gladiator in the zero-sum budget wars. He’d transform the sequester fight by changing the categories that undergird it. He’d possess the primary ingredient of political greatness: imagination. The great presidents, like Teddy Roosevelt, see situations differently. They ask different questions. History pivots around their terms.
I share David Brooks desire to see a resolution, but ultimately this, like many wishes, is fantasy.
The only leverage that the President has in this situation is public opinion and he has been widely criticized by Republicans for his “campaigning” on this topic.
The Brooks’ position really begs the fundamental question because it assumes that there is some magic phrase or spell that will cause Republicans to look at this problem from a different perspective. Greg Sargent of the Wash Post summarized it best.
What if there is nothing whatsoever that can be done by the president or anyone else to break the GOP out of its no-compromising stance? This isn’t an unreasonable reading of the situation; it’s what Republicans themselves have confirmed, publicly and on the record — they will not concede a penny in new revenues, no matter what. And if this is the case — if the fundamental problem is that Republicans really do prefer the sequester to any compromise — isn’t it incumbent on commentators to explain this clearly and forthrightly to their readers?
The characterization of the President is that he is supposed to become the adult in this situation. He is somehow supposed to discipline his problem children and make them behave. As all parents know, however, sometimes the only way to teach responsibility is to make sure those who act badly are held fully accountable for the repercussions of their actions. Their crashed car does not get fixed. They are not able to re-join the team until their grades improve. They have to repay the damage they have done out of their own pocket and will spend all their free time volunteering at the soup kitchen until the bill is repaid.
Those in the press who continue to cling to the presumption of balance in their attempts to represent both sides are to some degree CONTRIBUTING to the problem. They have become accustomed to rational responsible Democrats jumping in at the last minute to resolve the latest crisis created by Republicans. When they don’t see that opportunity developing in this crisis, they criticize the President for his failure to “exercise leadership” and in effect pay the “ransom”.
The Press had no problem labeling the recent Alabama survivalist kidnapper as crazy. Why are they reluctant to use the same label for Republicans who are demanding the sequester take effect?
The sequester cuts are real. People are going to lose their jobs. Businesses, communities, and our economy will suffer NEEDLESSLY. Anyone who helps deflect blame from Republicans — in the full knowledge that they are the primary obstacle to the compromise we need to prevent serious damage from being done to the country — is unwittingly helping to enable their intransigence.