When it comes to next week's sequestration cuts, here's what matters: coming to terms with the scope and severity of the damage, and understanding who's prepared to compromise to reach a solution. Here's what doesn't matter: who came up with the idea in 2011.
And yet, it's the sequester's origin story that fascinates Republicans, not for any substantive reason, and not because it will help the country in any way, but because finger pointing is easier than governing.
While it'd be infinitely more satisfying to argue over the important questions, there are no efforts underway to sidestep this self-inflicted wound. So, if we're stuck in the argument GOP leaders insist on having, we might as well note they're wrong about this, too.
For Republicans, President Obama "proposed and demanded the sequester." We know this isn't true. Indeed, at the time, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) bragged about Republicans getting the sequester into the Budget Control Act.
But John Avlon takes this a step further today, pointing to a PowerPoint presentation that Boehner's office developed with the Republican Policy Committee and sent out to the Capitol Hill GOP on July 31, 2011.
It's essentially an internal sales document from the old dealmaker Boehner to his unruly and often unreasonable Tea Party cohort. But it's clear as day in the presentation that "sequestration" was considered a cudgel to guarantee a reduction in federal spending—the conservatives' necessary condition for not having America default on its obligations.
The presentation lays out the deal in clear terms, describing the spending backstop as "automatic across-the-board cuts ('sequestration'). Same mechanism used in 1997 Balanced Budget Agreement."
The Speaker's sales pitch certainly gives the impression that the sequester was an integral element of the Republican policy. Avlon added, "Democrats could just as easily spin this as 'Boehner's Sequester' or 'Cantor's Sequester' and offer indelible digital evidence to back up their claim."
In the bigger picture, we've passed a level of profound exasperation. Republicans are obsessed with trivia -- and they're lying about it. As the blame game continues, it's a detail worth remembering.
As for why GOP leaders are repeating falsehoods and spinning desperately, Greg Sargent's explanation rings true:
Republicans may simply be putting on a game face about the politics of the sequester because they may view it as a necessity at this point. As you may recall, a top GOP aide told Politico recently that a government shutdown fight might be necessary for Republican lawmakers to get the need for an apocalyptic confrontation with Obama “out of their system,” i.e., for “member management purposes.” But The Hill reports that Republican aides have revised this strategy; they have decided the sequester is a better target than the government shutdown to stage this confrontation.
And so the sequester is apparently necessary for rank and file lawmakers to get the need to stick it to Obama “out of their system.” Republicans have defined victory as agreeing to no new revenues whatsoever, so it’s unclear whether there’s any other way out of this for them. Surely some of them view the sequester as a good thing, and surely some genuinely believe the politics of this fight favors the GOP. We’ll see how this plays out, but it seems highly unlikely that they’ll be able to escape damage here.
Indeed, Republicans, perhaps unaware of their deep lack of popularity, seem convinced that they'll be shielded from responsibility if they simply keep saying "Obama's sequester" over and over again, without regard for reality.
Good luck with that, Mr. Speaker.