Sequester Seems to Have Emboldened, Not Hurt, Some Republicans

PHOTO: John Boehner and GOP leaders
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The sequester's barely visible economic impact combined with relatively strong economic forecasts doesn't seem to have hurt Republicans politically and may have even made them bolder.

Obama warned for months that the layoffs and pay cuts that would result from domestic and military spending cuts would slow the economy to a crawl, but few of those warnings have come to fruition since the sequester took effect on March 1.

"What's happening is really reinforcing and reinvigorating a central conservative view that many of the activities of the federal government are not core competencies and could be better performed by others," said Juleanna Glover, a Republican lobbyist and adviser to several major GOP figures such as President Bush, Vice President Cheney and former Sen. John Ashcroft. "The fact that we can see these 5 percent cuts are not really causing as much screaming and crying as we would all have expected is really invigorating to conservatives."

Strong economic data, falling deficits and blockbuster Wall Street profits are contributing to the perception that the economy is doing better in spite of the sequester.

That's a far cry from the predictions Obama made in March.

"All of this will cause a ripple effect throughout our economy. Layoffs and pay cuts mean that people have less money in their pockets, and that means they have less money to spend at local businesses," Obama said. "That means lower profits. That means fewer hires. The longer these cuts remain in place, the greater the damage to our economy: a slow grind that will intensify with each passing day."

These predictions may yet be proved true -- and many experts argue that things eventually get worse on the economic front -- but at the moment, it's a hard sell.

In recent months, the word "sequester" has dropped precipitously from the president's rhetoric. One of the last times Obama talked about the sequester was jokingly at the White House Correspondent's Dinner in April.

"Take the sequester. Republicans fell in love with this thing, and now they can't stop talking about how much they hate it. It's like we're trapped in a Taylor Swift album," Obama riffed.

Turns out, Republicans probably don't hate it all that much.

The cuts were initially designed to administer pain equally on both sides of the aisle. Automatic domestic spending cuts were most likely to hurt programs near and dear to Democratic hearts. And military spending cuts were designed to nudge Republicans away from letting them kick into place.

The cumulative effect of both types of cuts was also supposed to be dramatic. But more and more, Republicans seem comfortable with the fact that the economic impact of the cuts hasn't been that great. The economy seems to be doing well for the first time in years.

"I don't think taking 2 percent off the top in a $14 trillion economy is going to be a big drag on growth," said House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., when asked at a fiscal summit in Washington earlier this month whether the sequester had hurt the economy.

And that makes Obama's argument that the GOP would get stuck with the blame a much more difficult argument.

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