Poison Pill Politics
The deadline has passed. The sequester is in effect. And Congress is not in session.
By CHARLES M. BLOW
Published: March 1, 2013
Damon Winter/The New York Times
Charles M. Blow
We now know that our political system is broken beyond anything even remotely resembling a functional government.
The ridiculous bill was designed as a poison pill, but Republicans popped it like a Pez. Now the body politic — weak with battle fatigue, jerked from crisis to crisis and struggling to recover from a recession — has to wait to see how severe the damage will be.
(The director of the Congressional Budget Office estimatesthat the sequester could cost 750,000 jobs in 2013 alone.)
This is all because Republicans have refused to even consider new revenue as part of a deal. That includes revenue from closing tax loopholes, a move they supposedly support.
As Speaker John Boehner said after his Congressional leaders met with President Obama on Friday:
“Let’s make it clear that the president got his tax hikes on Jan. 1. This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over.”
Boehner’s intransigence during the talks drew “cheers,” according to a report in The New York Times, from his chronically intransigent colleagues. But their position is a twist of the truth that is coming dangerously close to becoming accepted wisdom by sheer volume of repetition. It must be battled back every time it is uttered.
Let’s make this clear: it is wrong to characterize the American Taxpayer Relief Act as a “tax hike.” In reality, much of what it did was allow 18 percent of the Bush tax cuts — mostly those affecting the wealthiest Americans — to expire while permanently locking in a whopping 82 percent of them.
But of course, that misrepresentation fit with the tired trope of Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals. It also completely ignores that it was Bush-era spending that dug the ditch we’re in.
Republicans have defined their position, regardless of how reckless: austerity or bust. However, as economists have warned, austerity generally precedes — and, in fact, can cause — bust. Just look at Europe.
But Republicans are so dizzy over the deficits and delighted to lick the boots of billionaires that they cannot — or will not — see it. They are still trying to sell cut-to-grow snake oil: cut spending and cut taxes, and the economy will grow because rich people will be happy, and when rich people are happy they hire poor people, and then everyone’s happy.
This is the vacuous talk of politicians trying to placate people with vacation homes, not a sensible solution for people trying to purchase, or simply retain, their first homes.
Now the president is trying to make the best of a bad situation and bring expectations in line with what is likely to happen.
When Gallup this week asked Americans to use one word to describe the sequester, negative words outnumbered good words four to one. The top three negative words or phrases were “bad,” “disaster” and “God help us.”
At a news conference after Friday’s meeting with Congressional leaders, the president tried to tamp down some of the most dire predictions about the sequester’s impact. He said:
“What’s important to understand is that not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away. The pain, though, will be real.”
The president knows well that if the sequester’s effects are so diffused that the public — whose attention span is as narrow as a cat’s hair — doesn’t connect them to their source, people might think the administration cried wolf.
That’s why he said, and will most likely continue to say for months, “So every time that we get a piece of economic news over the next month, next two months, next six months, as long as the sequester’s in place we’ll know that that economic news could have been better if Congress had not failed to act.”
He must yoke this pain to the people who invited it. It’s not as though most Americans don’t already think poorly of Republicans anyway.
A Pew Research Center report released this week found that most Americans think the Republican Party, unlike the Democratic Party, is out of touch with the American people and too extreme. And most Americans did not see Republicans as open to change or looking out for the country’s future as much as Democrats.
The president said Friday that “there is a caucus of common sense up on Capitol Hill” that includes Congressional Republicans who “privately at least” were willing to close loopholes to prevent the sequester.
Those privately reasonable Republicans might want to be more public before their party goes over another cliff and takes the country with them.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 2, 2013, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Poison Pill Politics.
Related in Opinion
Editorial: As the Cuts Hit Home(March 2, 2013)