It’s no secret that Republicans have had a hard time find their message, not just in the most recent election cycle, but also since the new Congress was seated last month. The most recent folly has been on the sequester — relatively small cuts to expected rates of spending that are set to take effect on March 1st.
While many House Republicans are quite content to let these cuts happen as scheduled, Speaker John Boehner and others in leadership are trying to pressure Obama, who says the cuts would hurt the economy even though he initially signed off on them, into substituting defense cuts with reductions in other areas of the budget. The problem is their messaging, as Byron York explains:
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner describes the upcoming sequester as a policy “that threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more.”
Which leads to the question: Why would Republicans support a measure that threatens national security and thousands of jobs? Boehner and the GOP are determined to allow the $1.2 trillion sequester go into effect unless President Obama and Democrats agree to replacement cuts, of an equal amount, that target entitlement spending. If that doesn’t happen — and it seems entirely unlikely — the sequester goes into effect, with the GOP’s blessing.
In addition, Boehner calls the cuts “deep,” when most conservatives emphasize that for the next year they amount to about $85 billion out of a $3,600 billion budget. Which leads to another question: Why would Boehner adopt the Democratic description of the cuts as “deep” when they would touch such a relatively small part of federal spending?
The effect of Boehner’s argument is to make Obama seem reasonable in comparison. After all, the president certainly agrees with Boehner that the sequester cuts threaten national security and jobs. The difference is that Obama wants to avoid them. At the same time, Boehner is contributing to Republican confusion on the question of whether the cuts are in fact “deep” or whether they are relatively minor.
York does provide the message that Boehner and company should have been giving, explaining that the cuts are necessary part of controlling out of control spending. But because Boehner essentially agrees with Obama on the sequester, York asks, “Could the GOP message on the sequester be any more self-defeating?” The answer is pretty obvious.
And while their messaging on the sequester is terrible, it’s symptom of a much larger problem — Republicans don’t believe in the limited government rhetoric on which they run. Now, there are Republicans in Congress who are strong fiscal conservatives, but those running the show — such as Boehner and most others in House leadership — have not offered a real contrast to Americans between themselves and Obama.
Even though the sequester is small in the grand scheme, Boehner and House Republicans are staring down the most pro-growth spending cuts, as Larry Kudlow calls them, we’ve seen in years and they’re playing right into Obama’s hands.