The GOP, in fact, should quit while it's ahead. Rather than penning editorials and appearing on Sunday morning talk shows to try to pin the blame on others, leadership would be far better off simply saying: "Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for dreaming up a plan that implements some minimal spending cuts. Thanks for signing it into law. It's not much, but we sure appreciate it."
It's been a while since the GOP held the upper hand in any skirmish, and this situation holds the special distinction of asking nothing of Republicans -- a tactic that meshes well with their present skill set. No arguing over "revenue." No threat of a government shutdown. No default. No need for a protracted surrender.
How will it play out? "Are you willing to see a bunch of first responders lose their job? ... Are you willing to have teachers laid off or kids not have access to Head Start?" asks the president. Don't forget firemen, TSA agents and mental health workers -- a chilling proposition if any of it were true. We're about a week away from a White House press release warning that sequestration would mean your kid's disabled preschool teacher would have her wheelchair repossessed.
This scaremongering shows not only that Obama isn't serious about deficit spending or reform but that he believes his skill and perpetual campaign machine is enough to persuade the public -- and consequently the House -- to see it his way. This time, he may be wrong.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, we're actually looking at a $44 billion spending reduction in 2013 -- or reducing what the federal government planned to budget this year by 1.5 percent. So it's a cut that would total 0.5 percent of gross domestic product. Does the average American believe that living without a week's worth of government spending would crush civilization? Does anyone? Notwithstanding Obama's contention, not a single penny has been cut by his administration. So when Obama claims that the sequester cuts would take a "meat cleaver" to government, he's arguing that even a modest reduction in future spending could devastate the economy. Does that fly?
Republicans can mess this up, of course, by creating confusion about their own position. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, House Speaker John Boehner makes a confused argument that cutting is "ugly and dangerous." Does any fiscal conservative really believe that carving out $44 billion of a $3.8 trillion budget is dangerous? And Sen. John McCain argues that sequester would be a "devastating" blow to America's security. As a political matter, a willingness to slightly reduce spending across the board could only add credibility to the GOP's argument on spending. If cutting $500 billion from the Pentagon budget over a decade means ruin, hey, we're already ruined.
No, the ham-fisted sequester cuts would not be the optimal way to trim spending, but it's the best available plan -- the only plan, really. If there are ways to prioritize these reductions that make more sense, Republicans should join that conversation. If Democrats would rather reform entitlement programs, that's an even more productive discussion. But it's unlikely. Sequestration is likely the best opportunity to slow spending growth that conservatives are going to see over the next four years.
So just thank the president for his superb work, and move on.