Six Degrees of Sequestration

From the apparent horror of the White House, you’d think March 1 was threatening castration rather than sequestration.  And they might be right in a sense; as we’ve argued here before, Obama and the Democrats seem much more terrified of sequestration than Republicans for the simple reason that more of their key client groups depend on the discretionary programs that will be pinched in sequestration.  Fiscal castration indeed.

Will the administration get away with the Washington monument strategy of making sure cuts affect vital services like air traffic control and agricultural inspections?  Or will citizens perceive this as the shakedown it really is, as Jonathan Tobin predicts?  Hard to say.  These fiscal battles have gone badly for Republicans in the past, going back to the Gingrich government shutdown fiasco of 1995.  And between the President’s megaphone and a sycophantic media, the odds on winning the sequestration perceptions game might appear daunting.

On the other hand, the Democrats’ obvious panic may reflect that we’re reaching the first of many tipping points in the crisis of the American welfare state.  What makes this current episode so peculiar is the strange resistance of Democrats to the Republican proposal to grant the president flexibility in administering the sequestration.  Normally Obama and today’s liberals are all about expanding executive authority to do good things without the permission or oversight of Congress.  And I thought liberals liked crises, because they are too good to let go to waste.  Why the sudden reticence about executive prerogative just now?  Could it be that they perceive that this is the kind of fiscal crisis is one that will start to cut against them over and over again?  Why would that be?

Charles Kesler points out in I Am the Change that “Currently, the welfare state operates almost independently alongside the general government.”  The fact that the sequester will not touch entitlements will bring this fact to the foreground, along with the tacit acknowledgement that the welfare state is bumping up against its limits; its client groups will increasingly start crashing into each other in the handout line.  Never mind this sequester incident: untamed entitlement spending will choke off more and more discretionary spending that the interest groups depend on.  They’re going to reach the limit of plausible tax increases before long, even if Democrats reclaim a majority in the House next year.

Obama might win this round and humiliate the House Republicans yet again, but there’s a good chance we’ll look back on the liberal panic right now as the first sign of the turn of the tide.  E.J. Dionne’s column earlier this week is one canary swooning from the fumes in the liberal cave (“the sequester is allowing the tea party’s ghost to haunt Washington”). Mickey Kaus agrees, for reasons opposite of Dionne, of course.

Hat tips: DW, RS.

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