On the first of this month the feared budget sequester came into effect after urgent negotiations to solve the debt crisis failed. I will not pretend to possess any expertise in the United States budget system, nor do I have much interest in the fine details of economics. My interest is in the political science of the matter, and as such I will limit my comments to that theater.
Since his inauguration the President’s approval rating has fallen to 43 percent, he is weakened by his inability to force congressional republicans to a deal before March 1st. Likewise the Republicans are facing an angry public, around 10 percent more people identify with the Democratic party which is polling better in the lead up to next years mid-term elections. But overall the public is not happy with the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the White House. This is a plague on all three houses, and it is my opinion that because that is the case there is no way either of the players can win the public relations battle. President Obama can conceivably bet the farm if he wants, in budget negotiations he has the ability to refuse to agree to the whims of Speaker Boehner even if it means shutting down the federal government. It happened under Clinton, and what we know is that situation is politically unwinnable too. Except Obama never has to campaign for election again. Speaker Boehner and the house have that coming next year.
So the President can afford to be unpopular. In a game where everyone loses the player with nothing to lose is king. The sequester is costing at least 29000 jobs from the Defense department, as everyone who watches US politics there is no way to spin the constricting of the military in a way that favors congress. The Commander in Chief wins a small part of the PR battle here although I am quite sure he is more concerned with the tension in North Korea, and the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Maintaining his strategic objectives with fewer resources at his disposal.
Without wanting to be held to prediction since I will probably have to adjust it as early as next week, I would say that it is highly likely that the President will outmaneuver his opponents and attain a result closer to his desires. But this is going to be the key fight that will define this term, he will either come out of this weak, or very strong indeed. If the latter proves to be the case it can be assumed that many boxes of his agenda will be ticked by the time he leaves office in 2016.
So it is a plague on all three houses, but one of them has four years of immunity. Its time for US politics to get tough, and get working.