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Signs of intelligent life in the House

I have it on excellent authority that, with the sequester looming, House Republicans will pass a bill to provide the various federal departments and agencies with the power to prioritize where cuts go in each organization. The total amount of cuts within a department or agency would be the same, but the cuts could be made on a more rational basis.

I’ve been advocating this sort of legislation for some time. It has two virtues. From a policy standpoint, it will improve the sequester (if that’s what we end up with) by making it less of a blunt instrument.

From a political standpoint, it improves the Republicans’ position. Senate Democrats and President Obama will push for alternative legislation that substitutes higher taxes (through the elimination of some deductions) for a significant amount of the spending cuts. When this legisation fails to get off the ground, the Dems will accuse Republicans of forcing draconian cuts in services in order to protect the rich. And the charge will carry force.

But having passed legislation that allows flexibility in the cuts, and having seen that legislation die in the Senate, Republicans will have a forceful charge of their own. They can point out that the Democrats are so opposed to spending cuts that they refused to accept a compromise that would have enabled the government to function better. And when this or that public inconvenience arises, Republcans can attribute it to the Democrats’ unwillingness to adopt legislation that could have prevented it.

It’s possible that, in a pinch, the Democrats might agree to legislation giving the government flexibility in making cuts. If so, great — we’ll get spending cuts that may tend to be more rational.

If inconveniences arise nonetheless, the Dems will say they did everything they could to prevent this, but the cuts are just too deep to manage. Republicans will counter that the cuts are only around 6 percent, and that, with competent management, the inconvenience in question could have been avoided. This debate would probably be a draw.

I’m also informed that after the House passes its sequester legislation, it will move quickly to pass its budget resolution, doing so before end of March. This would be earlier than required, and earlier than ever before. In addition, there apparently is a strategy in place to deal with the debt ceiling and the continuing resolution, though I haven’t heard what that strategy is.

The good news is that, if what I’m hearing is true, the House is thinking strategically and, it seems, soundly about how to conduct the ongoing battle royale over the budget and the debt. Let’s hope so, for we know that Obama and the Senate Dems are.

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