Nov. 26, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Has Obama Given Away His Sequester Leverage?

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Congressional Democrats are questioning the wisdom of the White House and how the president is dealing with the fallout from the sequester cuts. Many feel that Obama is focusing too much on outreach to Republicans.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. negotiated a two-month delay of the sequester while letting Republicans off the hook on the thing that would have hurt them most: massive tax increases for everyone.

The White House’s backup plan was in pressuring the GOP after the cuts were implemented, when real Americans started to be affected by them. And the administration is backing down on that now, too.

“It’s been a series of retreats since the fiscal cliff. The impetus of this all was giving up on the fiscal cliff and now we’re stuck with it,” one Democratic aide said. “It’s just really frustrating. We were there, we were ready to go, and we gave it up, and I think it just shows a lack of understanding of Congress.”

The aide said that the White House’s tactics have resulted in sparing Republicans from political pain.

“It’s a misunderstanding of getting them to the table and making them feel pain. Right now, they feel no pain,” the aide continued before defending the White House a bit. “They were concerned about going over the cliff and what it would mean for the economy — this is the cost of controlling one house of Congress and the White House — we have to be the responsible party.”

There was some grumbling last week that even the optics of the FAA deal were bad: Congress was passing a sequester carve-out on an issue that affected them most.

Of course, like every program affected by the spending cuts, there’s an economic effect to consider: delaying business or vacation travel could have real consequences. But not every cause will get a piecemeal change to protect its interests, and some Democrats worry especially about programs such as Head Start, whose constituency is not as well-financed or as organized as business.

Congressional Democrats have no current plans to freelance to take care of the cuts themselves without willing GOP partners. The president has said he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling again, and the House GOP’s decision this winter to approve a temporary extension without new cuts revealed that Republicans aren’t itching to play that game either.

“Short of a deal to replace it with a bipartisan deal, I don’t think so,” said another Democratic aide, when asked if there were any alternative plans to take care of the sequester.

Short of serious economic downshifts as a result of the policy, it’s unclear anything will spark a real fix.

“Everyone’s holding their breath and asking, ‘Can the economy absorb this?’” the first aide said.

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