‘This is not going to be an apocalypse, I think as some people have said,” President Obama told reporters Friday, just hours before authorizing $85 billion in automatic spending reductions via sequestration.
In one fell swoop, Obama completely contradicted what he and practically every senior member of his administration had been saying for months, and revealed something that many might have considered a genuine sign of the apocalypse: House Republicans are successfully executing a long-term political and policy strategy.
For Republicans, the clearest indication that they had won this latest round in the ongoing budget fight was Obama’s acknowledgment that he would sign a continuing resolution to fund the government (the current one expires at the end of March) that included the lower spending levels under sequestration, in addition to the spending caps already in place under the Budget Control Act of 2011. In other words, that he would not risk a government shutdown in an effort to undo the automatic cuts.
“I think it’s fair to say that I made a deal for a certain budget, certain numbers,” the president said. “There’s no reason why that deal needs to be reopened.”
On Monday, House Republicans made their next move by introducing a six-month continuing resolution that would lock in federal spending at sequestration levels. Key conservative members have signaled their support for the bill, even though it does not include a number of controversial policy riders — such as the defunding of Obamacare — that many have pushed for in the past. GOP leadership hopes to pass the funding resolution later this week.
Republicans say the White House, after badly mismanaging its messaging on sequestration, now has no choice but to accept the lower spending levels, which is a significantly positive outcome for Republicans, both from a political and policy perspective. “It’s a big deal,” says a senior GOP aide. “This was a necessary win for Republicans. It’s not sufficient, but absolutely a necessary win.”
“Americans understand that if the sequester get replaced, it gets replaced with spending cuts, not tax hikes” says another GOP aide. “They’ve resigned themselves to lower spending levels.”
The fight over the sequester was a fight the GOP wanted to have, and a key component of a multi-step political strategy hammered out weeks ago at the House Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Va. The recent showdown was precipitated by the decision to delay (until May) another confrontation over the debt ceiling (and force the Democratic Senate to pass a budget) in the hope that the politics surrounding sequestration would be more favorable to Republicans. The American people agree with the GOP on spending cuts, one GOP aide explains, but are less thrilled about the prospect of a government shutdown, or defaulting on the national debt. “So far I think sequencing of it all has come out pretty well,” the aide says.
Sequestration was a fight Republicans thought they could win, and they appear to have done so. Representative Tom Price (R., Ga.), a leading member of the conservative working group that helped craft the GOP’s budget strategy, says that securing sequestration-level cuts was “absolutely imperative” for Republicans. “We didn’t think that across-the-board spending reductions were the wisest way to do that, but regardless, we felt that those levels ought to be maintained,” he says. “At this point, things are pretty much on track.”