As a number of commentators have pointed out in the last few days, with the sequester looming, the Democrats have a single message they're sending to the public. Republicans, on the other hand, are a bit more muddled. The former say that this will be a disaster, with effects seen in every corner of the country and in too many areas of American life to count. The latter say that it was all Barack Obama's idea, so blame him (even if Republicans voted for it), and besides, Democrats are exaggerating how bad it'll be. But Republicans are facing what they've faced in previous showdowns: When you actually shut down the government or cut it back drastically, the debate moves from the abstract to the specific. And that's not where they want to be.
On Saturday, the Virginia General Assembly ended its session by passing a landmark transportation funding bill that would overhaul how Virginians pay for roads, highways and mass transit. The new plan would replace the 17.5 cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline—unchanged for 26 years—with a new 3.5 percent tax on motor fuels that would keep pace with inflation and growth.
It's hard to argue there isn't a large technology divide between Republicans and Democrats. The Obama campaign was lightyears ahead of Team Romney in terms of its online sophistication, including its presence on social media. As a result, some Republicans argue for a greater focus on technology as a way to appeal to younger voters and recover lost support in national elections. Stuart Stevens, chief guru for the Romney campaign, disagrees.
As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That isn't to say that first impressions are necessarily immutable destiny in politics, since there are those who have bombed in their national debut and turned things around, and others who looked terrific at first but turned out to be something less. Bill Clinton gave a famously terrible speech at the 1988 Democratic convention, and Sarah Palin was dynamite in her speech at the GOP's 2008 gathering. Nevertheless, there are some things you just can't overcome, particularly if what caused them wasn't a bad night's sleep but the very core of your being.
A year or two ago, if you asked Republicans to list their next generation of star's Ted Cruz's name would inevitably have come up. Young (he's only 42), Latino (his father emigrated from Cuba), smart (Princeton, Harvard Law) and articulate (he was a champion debater), he looked like someone with an unlimited future. But then he got to Washington and started acting like the reincarnation of Joe McCarthy, and now, barely a month into his Senate career, we can say with a fair degree of certainty that Ted Cruz is not going to be the national superstar many predicted he'd be. If things go well, he might be the next Jim DeMint—the hard-line leader of the extremist Republicans in the Senate, someone who helps the Tea Party and aids some right-wing candidates win primaries over more mainstream Republicans. But I'm guessing that like DeMint, he won't ever write a single piece of meaningful legislation and he'll give the Republican party nothing but headaches as it struggles to look less like a party of haters and nutballs.
At this point, odds are low for a deal to avert the sequester. Republicans want an agreement to replace the planned across-the-board spending cuts—which include cuts to defense spending—with ones that target social spending and entitlements. President Obama is willing to compromise on spending cuts, but insists on new revenues. "Balanced" deficit reduction—a key part of his reelection platform—is still a priority for the administration, and it commands wide support from the public.
It’s hard to be happy about the prospect of the sequester—the huge, automatics cuts to domestic spending set to take place if lawmakers can't reach a long-term budget deal—going into effect at the end of the week. Not only will it will mean substantial cuts to important programs; it will be a further drag on an already weak economy, shaving 0.6 percentage points off our growth rate. The end of the payroll tax cut, which expired on January 1, has already pushed it down to around 2.0, but the sequester cuts will depress it below the rate needed to keep pace with those entering the labor market. As a result, we are likely to see a modest increase in unemployment over the course of the year if the cuts are left in place.
There's nothing wrong with being a centrist, if you find that your true ideology happens to lie between where Democrats and Republicans are at this particular moment in history. There are some people who feel that way. But far more common in Washington is centrism not as a sincere expression of beliefs, but as an attitude, or even a pose. The idea that wisdom is always to be found at the precise midpoint between what Democrats and Republicans are saying is a particular Washington curse, accompanied by its pox-on-both-their-houses handmaiden, the idea that both parties are always equally guilty of whatever sins are currently being committed in politics.
If there's a corollary to the idea that GOP reform is unnecessary, it's that further outreach is less important than advertised. A little less turnout from minorities, and a little more support from whites, and you have a President Romney.
Today has seen several columns from frustrated pundits who want President Obama to "lead" Republicans to a deal on the automatic spending cuts scheduled for next month (i.e. "the sequester). The cuts, if implemented, will cause a huge slowdown in economic growth, and throw the federal government into disarray.
If you're a Republican these days, the agita just never seems to end. The public is blaming you for this sequester business (so unfair!), your own colleagues are giving up on fighting Obamacare, the publicdisagrees with you on pretty much every major issue, and to top it all off, this gay-marriage thing won't go away.
A key part of the GOP's strategy on the sequester is to blame President Obama for the fact it exists at all. One good example is House Speaker John Boehner's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal:
With the debt limit set to be hit in a matter of hours, Republicans and Democrats in Congress reluctantly accepted the president's demand for the sequester, and a revised version of the Budget Control Act was passed on a bipartisan basis.