For the first time since Election Day, President Obama is on the defensive. That's because on March 1, automatic spending cuts ("sequestration") go into effect -- $1.2 trillion over 10 years, half from domestic (discretionary) programs, half from defense.
The idea had been proposed and promoted by the White House during the July 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations.
The political calculation was that such draconian defense cuts would drive the GOP to offer concessions. It backfired. The Republicans have offered no concessions.
Actually, the calculation was that such draconian defense cuts would drive the GOP to negotiate in good faith to avoid drastic consequences. Instead, as Krauthammer noted, Republicans have refused to compromise at all. Why the columnist considers this something worth bragging about is unclear.
Republicans should explain -- message No. 1 -- that in the fiscal-cliff deal the president already got major tax hikes with no corresponding spending cuts. Now it is time for a nation $16 trillion in debt to cut spending. That's balance.
Actually, it's not. In the 2011 debt-ceiling hostage crisis, Republicans already got major spending cuts with no corresponding tax hikes. The nation $16 trillion in debt has already cut spending. How can a high-profile pundit have forgotten these details?
The Republicans finally have leverage. They should use it.
Actually, that's not what "leverage" means.
The Republican message right now, in effect, is, "Give us spending cuts that will hurt the country or we'll hurt the country." I'm not sure how Krauthammer defines "leverage," but I don't think this is a meaning most dictionaries would use.
If they do nothing, the $1.2 trillion in cuts go into effect. This is the one time Republicans can get cuts under an administration that has no intent of cutting anything.
Actually, the administration has already approved over $1 trillion in spending cuts, and $2.5 trillion in debt reduction. If Krauthammer doesn't know this, shouldn't one of his editors have reminded him of current events?
Of course, the sequester is terrible policy.... Naturally, the Democratic Senate, which hasn't passed a budget since before the iPad, has done nothing.
Actually, the Democratic Senate, like the Democratic White House, has offered a sequester alternative. Meanwhile, at least in this Congress, neither House Republicans nor Senate Republicans have offered literally anything as a way out of this mess. If Krauthammer doesn't realize this, he should.
The GOP should reject it out of hand and plainly explain (message No. 2): We are quite prepared to cut elsewhere. But we already raised taxes last month. If the president wants to avoid the sequester -- as we do -- he must offer a substitute set of cuts.
Actually, Krauthammer is badly confused. In 2011, Democrats accepted $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, and in 2012, Democrats managed to get $650 billion in new revenue. Even if the sequester is replaced with a perfectly balanced deal, Republicans are still getting the better end of the deal. So why does Krauthammer think Republicans should get a 100%-to-0% agreement now? He doesn't say.
Obama is trying to sell his "balanced" approach with a linguistic sleight of hand. He insists on calling his proposed tax hikes -- through eliminating deductions and exemptions -- "tax reform."
Actually, as recently as last month, most Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, were offering new revenue through eliminating deductions and exemptions. If this is a linguistic sleight of hand, the White House isn't the one that came up with it.
Hence Republican message No. 3: The sequester is one thing, real tax reform quite another. The sequester is for cutting.
Actually, Krauthammer is just making this up as he goes along. When the sequester was crafted, there was no rule about it having to be made up entirely of spending cuts.
The country needs tax reform. But first it needs to rein in out-of-control spending.
Actually, spending is already down in the Obama era, and describing it as "out of control" is plainly at odds with reality and the demonstrable facts.
The larger point isn't that Krauthammer's column is conservative, it's that Krauthammer's column is filled with disconcerting errors of fact and judgment. Indeed, the columnist himself seems to have forgotten critical details that shape the debate itself.
That the Speaker's office finds this absurd column compelling does not speak well of the near future.