New hostages: the Sequester and the expiration of the Continuing Resolution

Mark your calendars: March 1 and March 27.

Suzy Khimm discusses why the Republicans aren’t worried about the sequester — and why Paul Ryan seems to be one of the lead cheerleaders for letting it happen.

…it was only about two weeks ago that many of the House GOP’s defense hawks were vocally opposing letting the defense cuts in the sequester take effect, rejecting the notion that Boehner had the sequester “in my back pocket” as a threat to use against Democrats…

[...] That was before the House GOP retreat, however, after which the message on sequester seemed to become more unified. But given the genuine fears that rank-and-file GOP members expressed about the sequester’s defense cuts, it’s unclear whether House Republicans’ message on the sequester is political bluster or a genuine threat...

What’s more, the real impact of the sequester is becoming increasingly apparent as we approach the new March 1 deadline. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has already ordered the Pentagon to “prepare for the worst” by taking preliminary cost-cutting measures to training, operations and weapons maintenance. And the impact of the cuts on local military bases is crystallizing as well, adding to the pushback that legislators will feel back at home if they let the sequester take effect.

And while it’s true that Congress still doesn’t have an agreement on dealing with the sequester, or anything close to it, it could also just kick the can for a few weeks until March 27, when the Continuing Resolution to fund the government expires. The sequester would then get lumped into the bigger budget debate and Republicans would have a new point of leverage that they’d be arguably more likely to use than defense cuts: a government shutdown.

The Republicans just want to watch the world burn. Sequestration ties in nicely with the government shutdown that many of them just “need to get out of their system,” according to Boehner.

However, Ezra Klein doesn’t think the sequester gives Republicans any advantages:

[T]he sequester doesn’t touch Medicaid, Social Security or Pell grants. It exempts most programs for low-income Americans, like food stamps. Veteran’s benefits are home free, as are federal retirement benefits. Medicare providers see cuts, but Medicare beneficiaries don’t. And fully half of the cuts come from the military — a huge reduction in defense spending that Democrats couldn’t dream about achieving any other way.

That’s not to say Democrats will love the sequester. It slashes deep into everything from the National Institutes of Health to the Office of Vocational and Adult Education to the Environmental Protection Agency. Worse, the cuts are done with a cleaver rather than a scalpel. Rather than giving agencies control over how to apportion the spending cuts, every affected program simply sees the same reduction. Democrats don’t much like that, but given the sequester’s disproportionate focus on the military, it’s even worse for Republicans.

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