Articles

A Better Republican Sequester Strategy

February 21, 2013

Congressional Republicans are simultaneously united, divided and confused about the $85 billion of cuts in defense and domestic discretionary spending that begin on March 1 when the budget sequester takes effect.

Republicans are united in their dislike of across-the-board cuts but understand that this is the only way now to restrain federal spending. The GOP-controlled House twice passed bills, in May and December of 2012, that replaced the sequester with targeted reductions to less essential programs. Both measures were ignored by the White House and Democratic Senate. This led to the current impasse.

Nevertheless, there are philosophical and tactical divisions in the party. While most House Republicans worry that defense cuts will harm national security, a minority welcomes them. GOP Congressmen are also split over whether the House should approve a continuing resolution (or "CR," to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year) before or after the sequester begins.

As things now stand, cabinet departments will have to cut equally from programs important and insignificant, efficient and inefficient. But Republicans are confused over how to provide federal agencies with the flexibility to adjust their budgets under the sequester. Flexibility means giving the executive branch, e.g., President Obama, greater authority. Republicans are loath to do this, but many fear that without this authority the sequester will be especially damaging to military readiness.

And so Republicans don't know whether they should pass a separate flexibility measure next week, incorporate flexibility language in the continuing resolution, or simply paste the Department of Defense and Military Construction appropriations bills language into the CR.

Forward motion shows the GOP acting responsibly while inactivity allows Mr. Obama to keep the public spotlight on him. My own recommendation is that House Republicans should pass a continuing resolution next week to fund the government for the balance of the fiscal year at the lower level dictated by the sequester—with language granting the executive branch the flexibility to move funds from less vital activities to more important ones.

True, Mr. Obama may use that flexibility to cut spending that Republicans favor. Still, the GOP will be acting responsibly, and perhaps by doing so will put the president and Congressional Democrats a bit on the defensive.

Above all, the GOP must also keep setting the record straight for the public. It was Mr. Obama, not the Republicans, who came up with the sequester in the summer of 2011. In November of that year the White House said that the president "will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off part of the sequester." Now Mr. Obama describes his own sequester cuts as "sudden, harsh, arbitrary" and "brutal."

On Tuesday he paraded first responders onto a stage to demand that Republicans "protect . . . education and health care and national security and all the jobs that depend on them" by passing his "balanced approach to deficit reduction that would prevent these harmful cuts."

Yet Mr. Obama has never offered a specific plan for deficit reduction. Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, acknowledged this recently when Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) asked if he could score the president's speeches.

Last week, some Senate Democrats did suggest $55 billion in cuts (half from defense and half from the farm program), coupled with $55 billion in new taxes—mostly from a proposal that already failed to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate last year. But this was a halfhearted public-relations gesture.

The Senate Democratic proposal also violates Mr. Obama's campaign pledge of a "balanced" deficit reduction that consists of $2.50 in spending cuts for every $1 of new revenue. In December, the president received $600 billion in new taxes, which should now be matched with $1.5 trillion in spending cuts, according to his definition of balance. That hasn't happened.

Mr. Obama is a once-in-a-generation demagogue with a compliant press corps. So in coming weeks, we will be subjected to a slew of presidential photo-ops with those whom he claims will lose jobs because of a 2.3% cut in future federal spending.

The looming sequester is perilous for both political parties. The Feb. 4 Quinnipiac poll reported that only 22% of Americans believe the sequester should take effect. Yet a Feb. 6 Fox poll says 73% believe cutting spending now would help strengthen the economy, and in a Jan. 18 Fox poll, 83% said spending is out of control.

To win public opinion to their side, Republicans will need a proactive strategy that shows the GOP is committed to restrain spending, make cuts as smartly as possible, and keep the government running.

It won't be easy, given the president's intrinsic advantages and bigger megaphone. The Republicans only have the facts on their side. Sometimes that's enough.

A version of this article appeared February 21, 2013, on page A13 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Better Republican Sequester Strategy and online at WSJ.com

Related Article

5025443fefb994cb1d7d44be676c354c
April 28, 2016 |
Article
The presidential front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, won huge victories Tuesday. Yet their romps through the Acela primaries (named for the train that speeds through the Northeast region) cannot hide the disunion in the...
04edb9e32335deb501ad06d6add64d40
April 21, 2016 |
Article
New York was generous Tuesday to its native son Donald Trump. He grabbed 89 of the 95 delegates up for grabs and for the first time in any state received more than 50% of the vote. ...
D816b3432fd2941301a2484ed48892cf
April 14, 2016 |
Article
"He can run, but he can’t hide,” Joe Louis once said of fellow boxer Billy Conn. The same might be said of Donald Trump. In March the Republican front-runner gave three long, revealing interviews—two with the ...
5667ad7eb838913572e3b84e5da527a6
April 07, 2016 |
Article
The Real Clear Politics average of Wisconsin polls (March 23-April 3) pointed to a close race, placing Ted Cruz ahead of Donald Trump by 39% to 35%. But the final week leading to Tuesday’s primary was not kind to Mr....

Button karlsbooks 8115560310d99dcf7066a6791c2abb0e6e44efbce9d2a69ac5febbadd06cf979
Button readinglist 0c30cf88cf3c963eb72013f1b5906b6848694ba842d6efa0de8d2d3efbfd8fd2
Button nextapperance d1e601b7044cba97bcfe46cdf8bc572ab09797ca56157b5f533c25051217bb69