The Obamaquester or the Conservaquester?

by Reihan Salam

While congressional Republicans are working to lay the blame for the sequester on the Obama administration, Ben Domenech argues that conservatives might be willing to accept the sequester because the Washington Republican elite no longer sets the agenda for the right:

Obama and his advisors failed to recognize that today’s GOP isn’t the party of Cold War era buildups or George W. Bush’s unrestricted war on terror any more. Perhaps this is a conceit forged by the DC bubble – neoconservatism’s influence is strongest in Washington, and begins to fade as soon as you hit the beltway. Bill Kristol speaks for a faction of Republicans, not the party in toto. And while it is inconceivable to many in Washington that the Defense budget would ever be cut, the right’s grassroots base has dramatically shifted on this point over the past several years. This is not your pre-Tea Party GOP any more. This is a post-financial crisis, post-TARP, post-bailout Republican Party, where concerns about unrestricted spending and out of control budgets take precedence over concerns about spending at the Pentagon.

It’s an interesting hypothesis, and Republican enthusiasm for balancing the budget over the next decade strengthens Domenech’s case. Tyler Cowen and Ryan Avent have both suggested that the defense component of the sequester might not be such a bad thing. I tend to favor high levels of military spending, and I am sympathetic to Martin Feldstein’s view that recapitalizing the military is a reasonable thing to do during a depressed economic climate. But President Obama’s insistence on further tax increases changes the playing field. He has turned the willingness of Republicans to hang tough on the sequester into yet another credibility question.

On a related note, the president and his allies are trying to frame Republican opposition to raising tax levels as opposition to eliminating loopholes, but of course we could eliminate loopholes and tax expenditures and apply the resulting revenue to, for example, increasing the child tax credit, so this argument doesn’t withstand scrutiny. Republicans ought to make this argument explicitly.