Playing chicken with the defense hawks
I think Brian Beutler has this right:
The most important factor in this fight is probably the reality that Obama doesn’t have to face voters again and thus is willing to veto sequestration replacement bills if they’re composed of spending cuts alone. Congressional Democrats are fully aware of this, too, and that creates a powerful incentive for them to hold the line.
So sequestration will begin. Obama won’t cave. And then the tension sequestration was intended to create — and in fact has created — between defense hawks and the rest of the GOP will intensify and actually splinter the party. If that doesn’t happen quickly enough, then the sequestration fight will become tangled up in the need to renew funding for the federal government at the end of March. If Republicans don’t cave before then, they’ll precipitate a 1995-style government shutdown, public opinion will actually begin to control the outcome, and it’ll be game over.
So there are real dynamics at work here that can break the GOP’s resolve in this fight but that can’t easily be turned against Obama. Which means even though months of sequestration and a government shutdown followed by Obama folding outright is a theoretically possible outcome, there’s very little about the nature of the fight to make me think it’s likely to happen.
I'm not quite as sure as Beutler that the White House won't fold in some way, but I certainly agree that the whole point is to divide the Republicans between the defense hawks and the debt fetishists. You can see the tension in the Senate already with Graham and McCain calling for revenue to avoid defense cuts. That's where the action's going to be. But I would also point out that the Democratic party has a share of defense hawks who can be counted upon to exert pressure for some kind of a deal as well. If it gets too uncomfortable I can see the White House throwing in the towel on their one demand for revenue and giving the GOP even more cuts to discretionary programs. (They could even throw in the Chained-CPI as a luscious slice of foie gras to the elite Villagers.)
Obviously, it doesn't have to happen that way, but I think it pays for liberal groups to continue to assume it could. I'm hearing far too many members of the liberal cognoscenti saying that the "entitlement" cuts aren't too bad and that "tax reform" can be done at a later date. Hopefully the White House isn't listening to them.