I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had any pieces of sky falling on my head today.
The automatic spending cuts known as sequestration take effect beginning today. It’s a little early to gauge whether doom is truly upon us, but the way Americans sense the cuts have affected them — or not — will help determine how the next serial “crisis” is teed up.
We already know what that crisis will be: the debate over a new continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government. Because congressional Democrats have given up on the budgeting process, which would force them to commit in black-letter documents to the kind of tax-and-spend plans they desire for the coming years, the government ends up being funded for a few months at a time. The latest CR expires later this month, so it would seem the debate will now shift to that fight.
It would seem so, except that that fight is the one the White House has been waging for a couple of weeks now.
The intent of the scare stories about sequestration, in all likelihood, were only partly about sequestration. President Obama no doubt would have loved for congressional Republicans to back down and either kick the cuts down the road a bit further, as they did in the “fiscal cliff” deal, or even agree to some new taxes in place of, say, defense cuts. But he was also fully aware that leverage was ultimately on Republicans’ side if they were resolved to let sequestration proceed — as was the case for him in the fiscal-cliff talks, when taxes were scheduled to go up if no one did anything.
So, it’s altogether likely that Obama wanted to talk up the effects of the sequestration cuts not just to pressure them to cave now, but also to build leverage for the CR discussions. After all, if Americans do feel pain from sequestration, he can argue for higher spending in the CR. If they don’t, he can claim to have taken all possible measures to avoid pain now — but to be without any such protective options if spending falls further in the CR.
The talk about “balance” — i.e., raising taxes — will become even louder when the CR is debated. Never mind that the tax hikes in the fiscal-cliff deal are double the spending cuts under sequestration.
The question now becomes: What do most Americans think about the changes wrought by both deals? Will they feel more affected by the tax hikes or the spending cuts? And will they then balk at going further down one road or the other — or maybe find themselves willing to keep going down both?
One would think the fact that everyone’s payroll taxes went up would trump the far less universal spending cuts. But there will be a lot of argument-by-anecdote about spending cuts in the coming weeks to try to negate that.
– By Kyle Wingfield