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Why the Shutdown is a Republican Victory

Why the Shutdown is a Republican Victory

The news from Washington is all about President Obama’s impending triumph in the government shutdown/debt ceiling standoff. “Boehner Blinks,” declared a recent headline in The Washington Post. “Republicans,” explained ABC’s Jonathan Karl, “are working out the terms of their surrender.”

If this is Republican surrender, I hope I never see Republican victory.

To understand how upside down the current media analysis is, you need to go back a couple of years. In 2011, with Republicans threatening to provoke a debt default, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011, which cut government spending by $917 billion over 10 years. The agreement also created a congressional “supercommittee” charged with finding additional cuts. If the committee failed to do so, cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over ten years would kick in automatically at the end of 2012, via a process called “sequestration.”

Traditionally in Washington, budget compromises had meant Democrats agreeing to cut domestic spending and Republicans agreeing to raise taxes. But by raising the specter of default, Republicans had changed the equation. In the Budget Control Act, taxes weren’t raised a dime. Democrats compromised by cutting spending and Republicans “compromised” by agreeing not to let America default on its debt and provoke a global financial crisis.

Not surprisingly, conservatives liked the deal more than liberals. In the House, Republicans backed it by a margin of almost three to one while Democrats split evenly. “Is this the deal I would have preferred? No,” Obama admitted. By contrast, House Speaker John Boehner boasted, “I got 98 percent of what I wanted.”

Fast forward to the beginning of this year. Despite months of negotiations, the supercommittee failed to reach an agreement, and so this March, automatic sequester cuts kicked in. (In between, Congress did raise some revenue by not extending the Bush tax cuts for individuals making over $400,000 a year). If Democrats disliked the 2011 Budget Control Act, they disliked its bastard stepchild, the sequester, even more. In his 2013 State of the Union address, Obama calls the sequester cuts: “harsh” and “arbitrary” and warned that they would “devastate priorities like education, energy and medical research” and “cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

Republicans, being less supportive of federal spending on things like “education, energy and medical research,” were more supportive of the sequester. Indeed, as recently as last month, GOP leaders described locking in the sequester cuts—via a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) that extended them into 2014—as a major victory. In a memo to fellow Republicans on September 6, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor boasted that by “signing a CR at sequester levels, the President would be endorsing a level of spending that wipes away all the increases he and Congressional Democrats made while they were in charge and returns us to a pre-2008 level of discretionary spending.”

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