Have Democrats Lost Sequestration Fight?

Ezra Klein thinks it’s pretty simple:

The Democrats have lost on sequestration.

That’s the simple reality of Friday’s vote to ease the pain for the Federal Aviation Administration. By assenting to it, Democrats have agreed to sequestration for the foreseeable future.

In effect, what Democrats said Friday was that in any case where the political pain caused by sequestration becomes unbearable, they will agree to cancel that particular piece of the bill while leaving the rest of the law untouched. The result is that sequestration is no longer particularly politically threatening, but it’s even more unbalanced: Cuts to programs used by the politically powerful will be addressed, but cuts to programs that affects the politically powerless will persist. It’s worth saying this clearly: The pain of sequestration will be concentrated on those who lack political power.

A few minutes ago, I explained why I think air traffic controllers are different from anti-poverty programs. The short version: the flight delays were created by government action, which is not the same thing as the government spending slightly less money on programs to fix social problems that arose on their own.

But, if Klein is right–that Congress will step in an patch the sequester for issues that generate public irritation–then he’s also right on his conclusion. But that’s essentially a tautology: if the public cares about everything but wealth redistribution programs, the Democrats should lose.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Moosebreath says:


    Please re-read Ezra Klein’s point again. I’ll even highlight the important words for you:

    “Cuts to programs used by the politically powerful will be addressed, but cuts to programs that affects the politically powerless will persist.” It’s not general public irritation. It’s irritation to the politically powerful.

  2. legion says:

    Ezra (and @Moosebreath) are spot-on. What this means is that Congress – not just Dems or Repubs, but Congress as a whole – has taken it upon itself to be personally responsible for the micro-managing of every budget of every executive agency. They own the whole thing now.

    And if I was a senior cabinet official or agency head, I would be laughing my ass clean off right now, while forwarding copies of my budget documents to every single Rep and Senator, asking for their timely inputs.

  3. stonetools says:

    Shorter Joyner: “Programs I and people like me rely on are the ones the government should not cut back spending on, since we all agree that these are programs the government should fully fund All other programs are “contentious” and its OK for them to be sequestered.
    Note that Head Start-a program that even Saint Ronald of Illonois (PBUT) supported-has been hit by the sequester . When did that become a program that we all agree the government shouldn’t fund.?
    Gotta say the Democrats have been gutless wonders on this. EK is right again, unfortunately.

  4. Ben says:

    Oy vey. Klein’s right. As a liberal, this makes me sick. I’m just gonna start pasting this quote into every comment thread about Congress or legislation:

    “You know why people don’t like liberals? Cause they lose. If liberals are so fucking smart, how come they lose so god damn always?” – Will McAvoy

  5. Nikki says:

    What Moosebreath said! James, you REALLY don’t want to admit that right now Congress is obviously only looking out for the rich and connected, do you?

  6. Mikey says:

    @Nikki: When are they not?

  7. Septimius says:

    You mean to tell me that rich people (who, ahem, pay 90% of all federal taxes) expect Congress to address issues that affect them? Who knew!

  8. Once the sequester was implemented, the Dems lost.

    But then again, the Republicans also lost. Many of them thought that the sequester was just the tincture our ailing economy needed. I’m left thinking they either don’t believe that now….or didn’t believe it then. Either way, they lost too.

  9. legion says:

    @Septimius: What a Randian dolt you are. Congress represents _all_ citizens, you moral fissure, not just the ones with the biggest checkbooks. To stick their noses into the gears on this one thing, that happens to make them personally uncomfortable, while ignoring their responsibilities towards fixing the problems that damage and even destroy the lives of the remaining 300+ million people in this country is reprehensible. As are you.

  10. john personna says:

    It is a funny world with Republicans spending more is a loss for skinflint Democrats

  11. Moosebreath says:


    “rich people (who, ahem, pay 90% of all federal taxes)”

    Not even for unusual definitions of the rich and taxes. Even limiting it to federal income taxes (and pretending that Social Security payroll taxes, excise taxes, gasoline taxes, etc. don’t exist) and widening the definition of the rich to top 25% of incomes, you get 87.3% source

  12. mantis says:


    rich people (who, ahem, pay 90% of all federal taxes)

    I assume you are talking about federal income taxes because, well, you’re stupid and you think those are the only form of federal taxes. Ignoring all the other taxes, let’s look at who pays them. 90% of federal income taxes encompasses everyone from 40 – 100th percentile workers and half of those in the 20-40 percentile. For the sake of simplicity, lets split the difference and say that income taxes from the top 70% make up 90% of the nations federal income tax revenue. Are you trying to claim that anyone above the 30th percentile is rich? Do you realize that is about $29,000 a year?

  13. al-Ameda says:

    In the new world of 60 votes are needed to get anything done, Republicans are now clearly in the stronger position. Plus, it does not matter if public approval of Republicans hovers around cockroachian levels – they’re on a mission from god and they don’t care if they have to burn the place down to save it. Welcome to Third World Congress.

  14. gVOR08 says:

    The short version: the flight delays were created by government action, which is not the same thing as the government spending slightly less money on programs to fix social problems that arose on their own.

    To come at this from a different direction, the government’s failure to properly regulate derivatives and the shadow banking system greatly exacerbated those social problems. They did not arise entirely on their own. Our .01% “makers” and the government they largely owned caused it, they can friggin wait an extra hour in their Gulfstreams if that helps alleviate it.

  15. Septimius says:


    No. I’m talking about all federal taxes— income, payroll, corporate and estate taxes. The bottom 20%, with an average income of $10,552, have a negative tax burden. The middle 20%, with an average income of $46,562, pays 8.6% of the federal tax burden. The top 20%, with an average income of $204,490, pays 71.8% of the federal tax burden. The top two quintiles, not necessarily rich, but certainly well enough to fly on airplanes, pay 90% of all federal taxes.

  16. grumpy realist says:

    @Septimius: So what? Let them. I consider progressive taxes the insurance that the rich should pay to make certain they don’t end up swinging from lampposts. (Which is what has happened, historically, when you have a sliver at the top owning everything and lording it over the lumpenproletariat at the bottom.)

  17. Caj says:

    Republicans make me laugh! They act as if they had no hand at all in this sequestration nonsense! Crying and wringing their hands now that how bad it is. Please, give me a break.
    If their gutless leader John Boehner had a spine we wouldn’t be in this mess now. The deals he could have compromised on but he is scared to death of the tea party! The Republican Party are so good at the blame game and try to act as if they are the ones who actually care! The president has been far too accomodating to them the past four years. He should know by now the only person he can compromise with is himself!! The GOP people couldn’t care less about the country and the struggles of others, it’s all about scoring points. Always has been and always will be as long as President Obama remains in office!

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:


    You mean to tell me that rich people (who, ahem, pay 90% of all federal taxes) expect Congress to address issues that affect them?

    But made all their money off the blood sweat and tears of the 99%?

  19. Andy says:

    How much

    With the sequestration cuts set to take place in less than a month the attention of Washington is going to turn back to the deficit. To begin laying the groundwork for this next fight top Democrats are demanding that more revenue be part of any new deals. This demand was recently made by both President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Sunday.


    But as Tuesday progressed, it seemed clear that the party — and the White House in particular — was prepared to go even further. At his daily briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted that any sequestration replacement bill be “balanced” in its approach, but he refused to go into specifics.

    “Balanced means revenues as well as spending cuts, first of all,” he said, in response to a question from The Huffington Post. “And then I would note that we support the proposals put forward by Senate Democrats and House Democrats and you can evaluate them in terms of ratios.”


    Just before sequestration kicked in, most Americans said they opposed the looming automatic budget cuts and would give Republicans the greatest share of the blame if they ended up taking place. Now, a little over two weeks later, the cuts are in effect and, as they promised they would, Americans are blaming the GOP.


    In essence, the President was telling the Republicans something: if you guys want to give us a choice between the sequester – which protects Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs for the poor and students while chopping the bloated defense budget – and your draconian cuts to replace it, we will happily take the cuts in the sequester.

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    which is not the same thing as the government spending slightly less money on programs to fix social problems that arose on their own.

    Yeah right James. Just like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Just like winter and summer. They just happened. I can’t believe you actually wrote that. Tell me, did you have a straight face when you did?

    As to whether Dems lost the sequester fight or not? Call me when the Defense budget gets some relief.

  21. john personna says:


    We should highlight what the micromanagement was, and what the Republican “win” was:

    S. 853, the “Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013,” would authorize Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to transfer up to $253 million from discretionary grants for airport improvement funding (or from any other account of the FAA) to fund FAA’s operations. This would make further air traffic controller furloughs unnecessary and mean fewer control towers closing.

    So rather than stopping the sequester, or finding unspent money, or raising airline fees, the Republicans just said “don’t do airport improvement.”

    Gosh, will that cause any flyer delays, now or in the future?

    (Was that a can I heard being kicked?)

  22. stonetools says:

    If Obama had the courage of his convictions, he’d veto the damned bill and explain to the American people why.

  23. edmondo says:

    If Obama had the courage of his convictions…

    If that happened he wouldn’t be Obama.

  24. fred says:

    Sadly, here we go again folks. Our esteemed Pres, who I voted for twice, signed the sequester, which was overwhelmingly supported by GOP with a minority of democrats, has now unsigned a portion because GOP changed their minds about some priorities…and of course, our Pres sided with them and will sign it. Again, he is giving a finger not only to elected democrats but to voters who supported him while again showing a callous disregard for children, education, poor and minorities who supported him. This Pres has no spine and now the GOP realizes that they can get away with anything with him because he will not say NO to them and really by his actions show he cares a hoot about minorities, middle class and poor. When was the last time you heard Pres Obama speak about unemployment and jobs? Can’t wait for the next 3 years to come and go as our frustration, depression and disappointment will only increase with Pres Obama in the White House and showing no caring for most who supported him.