It may seem like ancient history, but sequestration was originally designed to be so unpalatable to both parties that the threat of its automatic budget cuts to both defense and non-defense programs alike would be enough to force lawmakers to come to a grand bargain budget agreement. As it first went into effect in March, Republicans tried to pin the blame for any negative consequences on President Obama. But they gradually came out in favor of sequestration’s devastating cuts and have now made it the baseline in the fight over funding the government.
Here’s how we got from “Obama’s sequester” to a Republican victory:
February 8: Boehner Dubs It #Obamaquester As the automatic cuts look likely to take effect, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) decides to brand sequestration the #Obamaquester on Twitter.
February 13: Sequestration Will Be A “Home Run” At a Politico event, Rep. Mike Pompeo says sequestration will be a “home run” for reducing spending.
February 17: Blame For Impact Lies With Obama While trying to downplay the impact of the cuts, Republicans also geared up to blame President Obama for the negative consequences. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) said on CNN, “I believe the president has a lot of authority that he can decide how this works, and, yeah, he can make it very uncomfortable, which I think would be a mistake on the part of the president, but when you take a look at the total dollars there are better ways to do this, but the cuts are going to occur.”
February 22: Sequestration “Must Be Done” Speaking to a reporter, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) argues in favor of letting the cuts go into effect. Pointing out that the state of Georgia reduced its budget by 30 percent, he said, “Are you telling me we can’t cut 2.4 percent out of the federal budget?” He added, “It absolutely can be done, it must be done in order to get us on a path to get this economy rolling again.”
February 28: “Obama’s Sequester” As sequestration cuts were about to take place in a matter of days, the National Republican Congressional Committee calls it “Obama’s sequester” and warns that it will “cut devastating segments of our economy, instead of the billions in documented waste.”
March: Republicans Decry The Closure Of White House Tours While the impact of sequestration was immediately felt by Meals on Wheels recipients, government contractors, and public schools, the closure of White House tours to deal with the cuts created an outcry among Republicans. Fourteen Republican Senators send a letter to President Obama questioning the decision.
April 22: Republicans Blame Obama For Flight Delays Sequestration’s cuts forced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to furlough workers, leading to long flight delays for travelers. Republicans place the blame with Obama, again taking to twitter with a new hashtag: #ObamaFlightDelays. The uproar leads to quick bipartisan action to give the FAA more flexibility and bring the furloughed workers back.
April 26: Sequestration Is “Actually Working” Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) became one of the first Republicans to say that sequestration had a positive impact, saying, “You know, you can knock sequestration or not knock it, but it’s worked in the sense that hit has forced reduction in spending. And I’ve been here 11 years and this is the first time I’ve seen it in this manner, in the sense that it is something that’s actually working.”
May 1: People “Want To See More Sequestration” Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) joined him a few weeks later to say that Americans are in favor of the cuts. “The people that I’ve talked to seem to be doing well,” he says. “In fact, when I got out in restaurants here in town, people come up to me. They want to see more sequestration, not less.”
May 16: Sequestration “Legitimate” Way To Cut The Budget House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) joins the chorus, pushing back on “the administration attempt[ing] to vilify sequestration” which he says is “a legitimate effort to cut 2.5 percent of the entire federal budget.”
July 10: Republicans Push Cuts Deeper Than Sequestration House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee release a budget plan that increases sequestration’s cuts to most programs while simultaneously lessening the impact on defense programs.
July 31: House Fails To Implement Cuts That Go Further The House is supposed to vote on an appropriations bill for transportation and housing programs that includes cuts that go deeper than sequestration. But when Republican members have to vote to implement these specific reductions, so many balk that the vote is pulled for a lack of support. Given the inability of Republicans to implement the specifics, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) says, “I believe that the House has made its choice: Sequestration — and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts — must be brought to an end.”
September 20: Sequestration Becomes Baseline In Shutdown Fight As the September 30 deadline to keep the government funded with a continuing resolution (CR) approaches, House Republicans, joined by two Democrats, pass a CR at sequestration’s levels. In the ensuing fight, this becomes the “clean” version of the CR.
October 13: Sequestration “One Of The Good Things That Happened” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) argues on Fox News that sequestration “has been one of the good things that has happened” and vows that in the House, “We’re not going to break the sequester cap” in ongoing negotiations to re-open the government.
October 29: “I Hope” Sequestration Cuts Hit Next Year When asked by a New York Times reporter whether another round of sequestration will hit in January, Sen. Tom Coburn replied, “I hope it does.”
November: “Sequestration Is Working” At a budget conference meeting, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told his colleagues he thinks that “sequestration is working.”
While Republicans have decided to own sequestration’s cuts, the devastation continues to take a toll around the country. More than 57,000 low-income preschoolers lost their slots in Head Start. The home-bound elderly are getting fewer visits from Meals on Wheels. More than 650,000 employees at the Department of Defense have been furloughed. Cancer patients have been denied chemotherapy. Low-income families are being denied housing vouchers and the homeless are getting less support. Domestic violence victims are being turned away from support programs. Unemployment checks for the long-term unemployed have been reduced. Schools on or near military bases and Native American reservations have had to lay off staff and close schools. Other public schools have increased class sizes and fired staff. Scientists have had to fire people and shutter projects.
And it’s taken a big toll on the economy. The Congressional Budget Office found that undoing sequestration could add as much as 1.2 percent to GDP and create 1.6 million jobs. The cuts have been a drag on growth, consumer spending, and wages.