Whatever Happened to the "Obamaquester"?

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
March 20 2013 3:57 PM

Whatever Happened to the "Obamaquester"?

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F-35 aquisition, and all other military equipment purchases, will be curtailed by sequestration.

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

One thing is clear already. The Obama administration's hope that sequestration would provide them with leverage to use in order to extract tax increases from Republicans has failed. Brian Beutler has the details, but it's clear that they're not even considering budging on this.

In the kind of odd metaphysics of politics that makes this a win for them. Yet it's worth recalling the context. It's not so long ago that Republican messaging was focused on getting people to use the term "Obamaquester" to describe the coming cuts. In other words, rather than shrugging sequestration off they wanted to blame Obama for it. Because, presumably, they thought it was bad. That's because sequestration was specifically designed to cut both spending Democrats favor (nonmilitary spending) and spending Republicans favor (Pentagon spending) and in fact it cuts the military budget more severely than it cuts nonmilitary spending. The key tactical move by which Republicans gained the upper hand on the issue was to simply stop caring about these defense cuts.

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They're not for the defense cuts, mind you, and continue pushing a plan to rescind defense sequestration and replace it with cuts on spending for the poor. But they know they're not going to actually win that fight. They've decided, basically, that they're fine with cutting the military budget.

That really has caused the White House's leverage to evaporate. But it's a much bigger story than that. Left-wing Democrats have wanted to cut Pentagon spending forever. But the dynamic has always been that Republicans and moderate Democrats would block the cuts. The idea that GOP anti-spending zeal was going to lead to a sharp decline in military procurement was, to me, totally unthinkable 12 months ago. And yet it's come to pass. That's a pretty big deal all on its own terms—as are the rolling impacts on the domestic side. Yesterday I wrote about Indian reservations losing money for their schools and today I heard a story about grant funding drying up for some research into the genetics of autism. The narrow political story has been a dud, but the transformation from the Dread Obamaquester to the shrug-it-off attitude of today's Republicans is fascinating and important.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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