COMMENTARY | Party diehards can say what they want but the entire sequestration episode has been a fiasco of truly governmental proportions. Neither side — Republicans and Democrats — can come to even a minimum compromise to avert the implementation (by law) of what were meant to be catastrophically enormous spending cuts to programs prized by both parties, designed to be so outrageous as to prompt Congress to pass less harsh legislation before the cuts went into effect. But in the end, only one of the parties will suffer greatly when the cuts take place on March 1 — the Republican Party.
Why? Because Democrats seem to be the only party that presents itself as willing to compromise. Take, for instance, House Minority Whip Stenny Hoyer, D-Md., who wrote for CNN on Feb. 28 a piece that characterized much of the GOP as unyielding and even willing to accept the sequester’s spending cuts (as some openly do). He summed up the public entreaty with: “… either share credit with Democrats for averting this crisis or fully own the consequences of the dangerous policy they will have imposed.”
Whether it is a true representation or not, the Republicans have been painted as the “Party of No” for so long, they cannot seem to get out from under its shadow. The sequestration debate isn’t helping their image. And with the White House and leading Democrats in the House and Senate pointing out Republicans’ unwillingness to compromise on tax revenues as a spending offset (read: taxing the rich and closing loopholes in order to decrease the cuts to programs for the poor), the message appears clear that the GOP seems to be concerned only with their vested interests.
The continuing message by Democrats is that they’re fighting for the common man, the middle class taxpayer, while the Republicans refuse to budge on eradicating unnecessary tax breaks for the wealthy and for corporations. And the message is hitting home.
In a Pew Research Center/USA Today Poll released on Feb. 21, if sequestration takes effect, most Americans will blame the GOP. In fact, according to the poll, only 11 percent of respondents said they would blame both parties. A full 49 percent said that most the blame should ride with Republicans. Democrats would be blamed by 34 percent.
Members of the GOP aren’t helping their cause, either. They seemed to be digging in weeks in advance. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters on Feb. 12, according to the Washington Post, that he thought the sequestration would take place and that he wasn’t “interested in an eleventh-hour negotiation.”
A week prior to McConnell’s stand, House deputy Majority Whip Tom Cole, R-Okla., said (via Talking Points Memo), “I’m all against raising any additional revenue on this. Look, these are written into law.”
Cole seemed to presume that the American people were ignorant of the workings of Congress, because although it is true that the sequester has been written into law by Congress, it is a law that can be rescinded by an act of Congress.
And just a few months ago, before and after the election, Republicans argued against the sequester going into effect because it would unduly affect national security through its designed massive defense budget cuts. That kind of flip-floppery doesn’t help, either.
But where the GOP shoots really hurts itself is that by being seen as the party that will allow hundreds of thousands of jobs to be lost, not to mention allowing spending cuts to go through that will adversely affect millions among the nation’s poorest. According to CNN Money, millions receiving unemployment benefits, millions of non-ambulatory senior citizens subscribed to food services, and lower income families depending on federal pre-school programs will be cut. National Parks will lay off employees, as will the FDA (driving up meat prices due to fewer meat inspectors). A supplemental bill for Hurricane Sandy victims might also become a casualty in the cuts.
Not good politics. Even worse PR…
And since many of the millions that will be affected by the sequester’s cuts are from demographics that Republicans have been courting of late (Blacks, Hispanics, Women), there is also the problem of hurting the party’s future “big tent” expansion ideas for membership growth and winning elections.
So how do Republicans find a position of strength after shooting themselves in the collective foot and seeming perfectly will to allow spending cuts to go through that appear to hurt far more than they will ever help? That remains to be seen. And the truth is: It could be a self-inflicted wound from which it will take years to recover.