Donald Lambro

Obama keeps telling us that the sweeping sequester cuts -- slicing about 5 percent from discretionary federal outlays (8 percent in defense) -- are hurting our country.

But a recent United Technologies-National Journal poll asked Americans, "Have you seen any impact of these cuts in your community or on you personally since they took place, or not?" The answer: 74 percent said they have seen no impact, while only 23 percent said they had.

Sure, a negotiated budget for the entire fiscal year that makes specific cuts in wasteful, duplicative programs that cry out for the ax would be far more preferable. But that doesn't appear to be in the cards, at least not in the short term.

In the absence of that, the sequester should be kept in place to reduce spending over time. It is the GOP's ace in the hole in any future, long-term budget-cutting deal.

As this is written, Senate leaders are crafting a bill they hope to bring to a vote before Thursday's presumed debt-ceiling extension deadline. The House was working on its own proposal, which the White House shot down Tuesday. But that may be one last-gasp attempt by the GOP's hard-line, tea party bloc to challenge the Senate establishment.

Rock-ribbed conservative Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho spoke for many of his colleagues this week when he complained that too many Senate Republicans were "pussyfooting around" in the budget fight.

"The problem with Senate Republicans is that they always want to have a fight the next time," he told CNN.

Whether the two houses can agree on a path forward remains unclear. House Speaker John Boehner has said he will not bring a bill to the floor that does not have the support of the Republican conference. But he has been in close talks with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (the father of the sequester plan), who is that chamber's most skillful deal-maker.

It's unlikely McConnell would want to send a bill over to the House that had little, if any, chance of passage. But it also seems unlikely that any budget bill backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Obama could win a majority in the GOP-controlled House, either.

The political pressure on both sides of the aisle is getting intense. Both parties are being pounded in the polls, and Obama's job approval score has plunged to 41 percent, with 53 percent voicing disapproval, according to Gallup's daily tracking survey.

His numbers would be even worse if the unemployment rate had been announced last week. Economists expected a weak job-creation number, but the administration said it could not release September's figures because of the shutdown. Sure.

When this round in the budget battle is over -- and it will be over, probably sooner than many expect -- there will be a lot of painful soul-searching among Republicans in the weeks to come about legislative strategies and future policy-making and political tactics.

No issue fuels more anguish than the economy. Gallup finds that 47 percent of Americans say they're "struggling" and 5 percent say they're "suffering."

Republicans should be pounding Obama every day on this issue. Yet they shoved it to a back burner or ignored it completely in the budget-battle debate as the government shutdown became an all-consuming political black hole.

For the besieged Obama White House, the shutdown was an unexpected yet welcome political gift.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.