Obama knows best, or better than E.J. Dionne anyway

E.J. Dionne argues, in a column that Steve linked to here, that President Obama is winning the sequester battle but losing the war:

The more time we spend on pointless disputes about budget cuts no one is expected to make soon, the less we spend trying to solve the problems that confront us today — and, God forbid, thinking about the future. The 2012 election gave President Obama new authority and new energy. Republicans want to place as much distance between themselves and that election as they possibly can. From their perspective, the more months we fritter away on these dumb, fake emergencies, the better. As Obama’s clout slowly diminishes, so will his opportunities to press his priorities. . . .

[T]he sequester is allowing the tea party’s ghost to haunt Washington. It is as if the election never happened. We are back to exactly the same deficit conversations we were having in 2010 and 2011. We are not pondering ways of helping the economy to grow faster, or how we might reduce joblessness, or how we can usefully invest in the future. We are not discussing what to do about deepening economic inequality.

Mickey Kaus agrees. He goes so far as to suggest that it would be in Obama’s interest to “accept the sequester, minimize the impact of cutting a couple of percentage points off the federal budget, settle for a deal that would delay as long as possible the Keynesian effect of the cuts on the economy.”

What Dionne and Kaus are missing, but what Obama well understands, is that the battle over sequestration doesn’t represent an obstacle to a left-liberal agenda but rather an opportunity for the president ultimately to enact it. Dionne is correct in saying that the 2012 election gave Obama “new authority and new energy.” But it did not give him a Democratic House.

Without a Democratic House, Obama has no chance of enacting has agenda (with one important exception that I discuss below). Thus, his number one priority is to win the House in 2014. The sequester provides him with an opportunity to advance that cause. As Steve says:

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.

This doesn’t mean that Obama will win the sequestration war. But given the playing field and what a victory might well mean, he is shrewd to fight it.

Obama does have a shot at passing comprehensive immigration reform in this Congress. But sequestration isn’t an obstacle to such legislation. The success of immigration reform legislation in the Senate depends on the extent to which Marco Rubio plays ball with the administration. From all that appears, he is a willing player. In any event, neither he nor Senators McCain and Graham have ever suggested that their cooperation depends on a budgetary deal.

Immigration reform of the kind desired by Obama faces a tougher road in the House. But in that chamber too, there is no reason to posit a linkage between the sequester and immigration reform. Obama is smart enough to understand that backing down on the sequester will not usher in an era of good feeling such that House resistance to immigration reform will crumble.

Obama reportedly has said, “I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters; I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors; and I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” These claims may or may not be true. But Obama surely has a better handle on how to push his left-liberal agenda than E.J. Dionne and Mickey Kaus do.


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