A Clever Move by Senate Republicans

02.27.13 1:10 PM ET

You have to give Senate Republicans some credit for coming up with this one, via Politico today. McConnell is a crafty one:

Days before the March 1 deadline, Senate Republicans are circulating a draft bill that would cancel $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts and instead turn over authority to President Barack Obama to achieve the same level of savings under a plan to be filed by March 8.

The five- page document, which has the tacit support of Senate GOP leaders, represents a remarkable shift for the party. Having railed against Senate Democrats for not passing a budget, Republicans are now proposing that Congress surrender an important piece of its Constitutional “power of the purse” for the last seven months of this fiscal year.

This would force Obama to make the cuts, so the political weight of their impact would fall on him, which would ensure that the White House would strain to make every effort to make the cuts as un-feel-able as possible.

And of course doing that would undercut the main argument Obama has been making for weeks, that these cuts are so deep as to be inacceptable. So if they do go into effect and your average person doesn't really feel them, then Obama was crying wolf the whole time, your average voter will conclude, and we can live with these cuts--and hey, maybe Obama is wrong about the need for more revenues too!

So it would put him in a box, potentially. But how successful this might be would depend on whether enough average people do feel the impact of these cuts. It's hard to have a strong sense of that. One presumes there will be furloughs and so forth, and these will get news coverage; ditto military cutbacks. But is there a difference between seeing reports on the news channels and actually feeling the impact oneself?

Also, the biggest impact of the cuts seems likely to be macroeconomic. They'll have an effect on growth, GDP, the jobless rate. But most people don't really connect those dots, and that impact will be diffuse, over time.

So what's Obama's countermove? Well, here's the thing. It's almost certain that he isn't going to have to make one. This isn't going to become law in the Democratic-controlled Senate, so it isn't going to matter anyway. In a week's time, or two, this will probably just get lost in the shuffle.

There's another Senate GOP faction, led by Kelly Ayotte, that would not cede this power to the administration and would come up with a list of cuts. Harry Reid is going to give the Republicans one amendment, so McConnell is going to have to choose between the "cede the power" plan and the one that mandates cuts. Neither is going to pass in any case.

I still think what I've been thinking for a week or maybe two. The cuts will kick in but in a week or two Congress will vote to repeal the sequester for now and extend the deadline. And that will carry us to the next deadline, March 27. The whole year is going to be a series of deadlines that the House GOP will force on the administration.

They operate on the general assumption that if government looks bad, it may hurt them in the short term, but they benefit in the long run. They don't mind losing a leg as long as Obama loses a foot, as it were. So their incentive is to keep gumming up the works.