Sequester Seems to Have Emboldened, Not Hurt, Some Republicans


"Obviously, this is what presidents do all the time: They want to try to leverage public opinion to create momentum for either policies that they're pushing or for revising policies they don't like. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," said Bill Galston, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former adviser to President Clinton. "I always regarded it as a long shot."

Sure, Republicans do hate the military cuts, but the public outcry from lawmakers representing military districts and other constituencies of military spending isn't coming as fast and furious as everyone expected it would.

Despite warnings from defense officials that sequestration has already hurt military readiness, there has been no significant effort to address them in Congress.

Ryan, at that same fiscal conference in Washington this month, said defense cuts were producing "dislocations," which is a far cry from the rhetoric being used by military officers such as Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno who said recently that the cuts were "killing us."

There's so little talk about the sequester in Washington, it's easy to forget that Congress intended it to be such a catastrophic consequence for not dealing with the nation's long-term deficit that they would never actually let it happen.

"A deadline is action forcing only if all parties to a dispute are worried about the consequences of inaction," said Galston. "And that condition was not satisfied in the case of the sequester because most Republicans prefer the sequester to any feasible replacement for it."

As the sequester cuts continue to take effect, the consequences seem to have been greater for the constituencies Democrats care about than those Republicans care about – at least for now.

Head Start, a preschool program for low-income students, is getting smaller, which means that fewer kids may have access to early childhood education. And unpaid furlough days are rolling through the federal government.

But this is just the beginning, experts say. More pain is ahead of us not behind us.

The threat of the terrible consequences has been the major motivating factor in congressional action, from the debt ceiling fights to the fiscal cliff in December. This time it doesn't seem to have worked.

It will make the next major fight, over the debt ceiling, much more interesting, as it remains to be seen whether the threat of harm to the economy will hold as much sway.

Some hope that replacing sequester cuts will be part of a big picture deal that also addresses the upcoming debt limit, but as Glover put it, "We're in uncharted territory."

For Congress to address the cuts, "it's going to take a negotiation," said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden. "It's going to be in the context of one of these deadlines."

"I'm not confident that we're going to see the last of the sequester, though, for a little while," he said. "I'm afraid it's kind of settling in."

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