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With public on Obama’s side in sequester battle, Republicans need to rethink strategy

To hear President Barack Obama tell it, everything from the health of the economy to military readiness will suffer if the White House and Congress can’t reach a budget deal by March 1 and deep cuts known as “the sequester” take effect. To hear many Republicans in Congress tell it, Obama is exaggerating.

Exaggerating or not, public opinion is on Obama’s side going into what will no doubt be a tense and perhaps somewhat theatrical final four days of February before Friday rings in the new month.

A Pew Research Center/USA Today poll conducted Feb. 13-18 and released Thursday found that 49 percent of respondents want the automatic spending cuts to be delayed if a deal can’t be reached by March 1, while 40 percent said the cuts should be allowed to take effect. In a separate Bloomberg News poll, conducted Feb. 15-18 and also released Thursday, 54 percent of respondents favored delaying the sequester while 40 percent say Congress should “act now before the deficit gets out of control,” according to Bloomberg.

Pew/USA Today also found that 49 percent would blame congressional Republicans if the sequester occurs, while only 31 percent would blame Obama.

The Pew/USA Today poll interviewed respondents about government spending in 19 different areas. In 18 of those 19 areas, support for increasing spending or keeping it current levels won out over cutting costs. Support for trimming aid to needy countries garnered the most support, with 48 percent saying it should be cut, while cuts to veterans’ benefits garnered the least support, with only 6 percent favoring cuts. Cuts to Social Security were also extremely unpopular, with only 10 percent supporting cuts there. The full list can be found in an informational graphic on the Pew website.

Opinion

With Americans showing little support for spending cuts, the need to raise more revenue seems obvious. This will hold true even if a budget deal is reached prior to March 1. But with so many Republicans ideologically opposed not only to the very idea of tax increases but to many of the government services tax dollars fund, the nation finds itself at an impasse.

As this week unfolds, look for Obama and the Democrats to drive home how the cuts would affect everyday Americans from all walks of life even as the GOP is faced with trying to downplay any negative effects that might arise from the sequester. Republicans may stick with trying to blame Obama, using an unexpected ally in Bob Woodward to emphasize that point, but many Americans are looking past the blame game now and are just hoping the sequester will not occur.

Some in the GOP may think allowing the sequester would help the party politically even if the country suffers economically, but that’s fuzzy logic. If the cuts occur and the economy goes off the rails, Republicans will be blamed. If the cuts occur and the economy holds its own, Obama can make the argument that increasing revenue in the next budget is absolutely necessary in order to prevent full-blown disaster from striking. The increased unemployment numbers that will probably result from sequestration will help the president make his case.

Republicans need to wake up and take a sober look at the situation: The smartest thing they can do this week is to cave, giving Obama everything he wants. Woodward may or may not have been right in saying that Obama owns sequestration, but Obama definitely would own the US economy after March 1 if the GOP gives in to his wishes before then.

Few experts foresee a thriving US economy by the midterms, so by giving in now, Republicans would enhance their chances for taking control of the Senate and maintaining control of House in 2014. But if GOP stubbornness carries the day and no deal is reached by Friday, Republicans would be making a colossal error. As Americans began feeling the sting of budget cuts, they would be looking to place the blame. In almost every imaginable sequestration scenario, the public would continue to blame Republicans.

Republicans have less than a week to clear their eyes and see the wisdom in handing Obama the economy on a not-so-silver platter as soon as possible. Only by giving Obama everything he wants now can the GOP blame him for everything that comes later. That may sound cynical, but blame is a big part of a winning election strategy. If Republicans find themselves being blamed for a weakening economy in November 2014 because of brinksmanship gone bad in 2013, Democrats almost certainly will take back the House and hold the Senate.

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