House Republicans are seriously entertaining dramatic steps, including default or shutting down the government, to force President Barack Obama to finally cut spending by the end of March.Okay, before we even get to the Republicans, you've got to love the way that sentence ends: "President Barack Obama to finally cut spending by the end of March." There's just one little problem with it: President Barack Obama just so happens to be the very same guy who signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 into law. And he's also the same guy who signed the fiscal year 2011 appropriations bill into law. Together, those two measures account for $1.8 trillion in spending cuts. If you add in the increased taxes on income over $450,000, we've done $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction.
So President Obama hasn't merely cut spending, he's cut it significantly. And overall, he's gotten more than halfway towards the $4 trillion target outlined by his deficit commission. Personally, I think he's focused way too much on the deficit, but that's neither here nor there. The key point here is that any article that purports to be about the budget battles really ought to at least make an effort to stay grounded in reality. And saying that President Obama hasn't cut spending is the exact opposite of that.
Amusingly, VandeHei, Allen, and Sherman actually contradict their lede later on in their article, pointing out that $1.2 trillion in spending cuts from the sequester are already on the books:
The conventional wisdom is that Obama and Congress will ultimately work out a grand spending compromise that raises the debt limit, keeps funding the government and changes the $1.2 trillion in automatic “sequestration” spending cuts set to kick in on March 1.Well that must be great news, because when the article began, Republicans were waiting for President Obama to "finally cut spending." But now, about ten paragraphs later, he's already signed $1.2 trillion in cuts into law. It does point out that he wants to replace some of those cuts with revenue increases, which is a fair point, but he's not talking about replacing all of them. In any case, Republicans don't need to do anything dramatic to let them start taking effect: they just need to do nothing.
The article parrots Boehner's spin that Republicans are prepared to accept the sequester as-is, but doesn't point out that defense hawks in his conference are already calling his bluff. But in either case, the sequester is already baked in. The spending levels have already been cut. If the question is whether or not Republicans will insist on additional cuts, the sequester is irrelevant.
That brings us to what this article was supposed to be about: the twin questions of whether Republicans will force default by refusing to raise the debt limit and whether they will shut down the government by refusing to pass appropriations bills when funding expires on March 27.
On that front, the article actually does include some interesting speculation, making the case that Boehner may try to escape the debt limit trap he's set for himself by focusing House GOP attention on the prospect of a government shut down fight instead of default. Adding weight to the theory is a quote from House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers explicitly threatening a government shut down—but not default. The article also includes background reporting indicating that even if that gambit fails, Boehner won't force default, suggesting that he will once again break the Hastert rule, under which he would only allow votes on legislation supported by a majority of Republicans.
But even though the article is provocative and does have some useful information, it begins and ends with the thesis that President Obama has refused to cut spending or take steps to reduce the deficit. In so doing, it pretends that the lunatic Republicans that Boehner is so desperately trying to reign in are actually grounded in reality. For better or worse, that thesis is throughly false—and there's 2.4 trillion reasons why.