Is there a Democratic war over Sequester and benefit cuts?

Is there a war in the Democratic party over Sequester and benefit cuts? And if so, are we winning? The answer to the first question is — Maybe. The answer to the second is — Yes. Read on for an explanation.

This is a four-handed game

We’ve now had many rounds of Obama trying — with mainstream Republican support — to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, and failing. The most recent failure was during the lame duck Congress last December, but as Maya Rockeymoore says in the interview clip below, he entered office in 2009 talking about a Grand Bargain. And the benefits cuts he offered John Boehner in 2011 are “still on the table.” This is the Sequester round of the game.

Let’s start by identifying the players:

Team 1. Mainstream, free-trading, benefit-cutting Republicans and Democrats in Congress (the leaders)
Team 2. Tea Party–branded Republicans in Congress
Team 3. Progressive and “progressive” Democrats in Congress
Team 4. Progressive activists and activist Democratic voters — you and me

Who’s not a player? Inactive Democratic voters. Their data turns up in the polls — they’re in that 71% of everyone in the country that hates benefit cuts — but if they’re not raising a stink, they’re not in the game. Only one of the players is listening to people who don’t speak up — progressive activists. We have their back, even if they don’t themselves.

Is there really a “war” on the Democratic side?

So is there a “war” between Team 4 and Team 1, progressive activists and mainstream Democratic office-holders? There’s certainly starting to be, and thank god for that, say I.

Is there a “war” between Team 3 and Team 1, progressive Congress members and their free-trading, benefit-cutting Democratic leaders? Let’s hope so, ’cause we need one.

And frankly, if there’s no war between Team 3 and Team 1 (progressives in Congress and their neoliberal leaders), Team 4 (you and me) will take on Team 3 as well. Team 3, progressive office-holders, time to take your courage in your hand and pick a side. The good news is that many Republicans on Team 2 have already decided — they’re with us.

Finally, we could end up with a war between the invisible Team 5 — the non-players out in the country, the so-far silent — and everyone in power. At least Alan Grayson thinks so, and says why here.

For some evidence of the battles taking shape in the Sequester round, here’s Politico:

Democrats not sold on grand bargain

President Barack Obama may be thinking about a “grand bargain” to address spending and the federal deficit, but there’s a key constituency he has to persuade to come along.

Democrats. … Inevitably, if there is an agreement on a big deal, Democrats will have to get on board for it to pass. But the 2012 election brought in new Democratic members of the House and Senate who are more liberal and more outspoken, strengthening the left wing of the caucus. …

Over in the Senate, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said flatly that the president was “dead wrong” to consider chained CPI.

“The veterans community does not agree with the president; the senior community does not agree with the president; women’s communities don’t agree with the president. He’s way out of touch on this issue, and I hope he rethinks this,” Sanders said.

There’s no question Obama will persist; he’s persisted in trying to cut benefits almost from Day 1 in office. Let’s hope the resistance persists and stiffens as well.

How to deal with the Democrats — a chat with Maya Rockeymoore

I had a chance to talk with Maya Rockeymoore on WeActRadio in DC this weekend on this very subject — how to deal with the Democrats; how to use both the Democrats and Republicans (Teams 2 and 3) to defeat Team 1, the leadership of both parties. It was a great discussion.

The clip contains the whole show — fascinating if you have the time — but it’s queued up to start at our discussion, about 20 minutes in. Listen:

Maya Rockeymoore may not be a name on your radar, but it should be. She has quite an impressive résumé, and is quite the fighter for our social programs (she chairs the organization at the link). She has also worked as a senior congressional staffer and is married to a long-time member of Congress. She knows both the inside and outside aspects off this fight, and as you’ll see in the clip, is uncompromised and clear-eyed. It’s great to have her on our team. Again, it was a very good discussion.

How will this end?

In my estimation, at some point Obama, driven as he is by Robert Rubinite financing (and his inner Rubinite dreams), will get the deal he wants to the floor of Congress. And progressives will have to vote on a bill that contains benefit cuts. Sucks to be them on that day.

poker_wikipedia_320px-HoldemOur goals are simple: (1) Push that day as far into the future as possible. And (2) make it toxic for any Democrat to say Yes to that deal when deal-day arrives.

In other words, we want to use measures like HR 900 (the painless Cancel the Sequester bill) and public opinion to keep Democrats away from a painful vote. And then, when that painful vote happens, to make pulling the lever for Obama and benefit cuts really really hurt.

We can only keep them from themselves (and Dennis Kucinich’s plane ride) so long, but we’ll try. The effort to scare them, however, has to start now. If we don’t get them to pull on their grown-up pants starting now, they’ll figure it out after they’ve cast the deadly vote, and that won’t help at all.

Think of this effort as a gift to them, because it truly is — we’re preserving their jobs post-2014, even if they’re taking employment risks no sane Congress-type should take.

And if they’re now taking Obama’s recent word that he’s going to work to get them re-elected in 2014, well … believe at your peril, say I. That’s not how it played in 2010, and Obama will never again face election.

Dear progressive in Congress, you were always on your own. Only we have your electoral back. Say I.

[Updated to correct some truly terrible self-editing.]


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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  • Kim_Kaufman

    If anyone reading this is in L.A., please show up Thursday 3/14 at 5:30 at Shakey’s Pizza at intersection of Fairfax & Olympic — the new OFA (Obama’s propaganda slush fund) is having an “Action
    Planning Session.” They want us, you know, us little people out here, to fight for Obama’s agenda on issues such as “Bills
    to reduce gun violence, immigration reform, ending the sequester, and balancing
    the budget.” They’re going to give us “handy
    planning guides with tips and suggestions for actions to take.” I’m going with a friend or two to speak about our ideas about Obama’s “balanced approach” and “shared sacrifice” crap. Please come and speak up! This can be fun. Do you think those $500k bundlers will buy us pizza, too?

  • Kim_Kaufman

    GP: you’re awesome for keeping writing about this. Glad to be able to listen to the interview as I wasn’t able to on Sunday.

  • Kim_Kaufman

    call your local NPR station and complain. Also complain on NPR’s website. And get your friends to do it.

  • Ford Prefect

    The only “war” is over how many millions to throw into poverty. See JOhn’s post today about congressional retirements being off the table, but SS is.

    Alan Grayson wrote an overly polite, tepid letter asking the WH to not cut SS and Medicare. Only 28 signed it. So that means in the House, there are only 28 people in the “no cuts” camp. The rest are all in for cuts, one might conclude. In the Senate, the number of those opposed to mass poverty for the elderly might be six. Possibly less.

    See here:

    So where is this war you speak of, aside from one’s imagination? I admit it’s a nice fantasy, but that’s all it is.

  • Drew2u

    By the way, the lady’s name was Joy Cardine.

  • Bill_Perdue


  • dula

    How sad that Teabaggers are more responsible for slowing the Democratic Party’s relentless Rightward march than Liberals/Progressives.

  • Zorba


  • The day NPR came out in favor of torture…sorry, ‘enhanced interrogation’…was the day I knew they were completely and irrevocably co-opted.

  • Naja pallida

    There is no war. The “progressives” will talk, maybe even loudly at some points. They’ll be happy to go on any television show and point out how damaging cuts to social programs will be. And then when the vote comes, they will go right along with it, and won’t make any real effort to stop it. This scenario has played out time and time again over the last 10 years or so. They have ceded all their power to the right-wing austerity jerks in their own party, who in turn have ceded their power to the Republican party.

    It is time the Republicans just admitted it openly. The sequester is their budget plan.

  • Zorba

    {{Sigh}}. And yet the Republicans insist that public radio stations are all liberal-leaning, all the time. They haven’t been for a long, long time, unfortunately.

  • Drew2u

    Wisconsin Public Radio this morning mentioned, at least 3 times, that the only way the budget could be balanced was by “entitlement reform”. That program also cheered Walker’s victory lap for his signing of the largest mining bill in the state’s history. I don’t know who hosts the 7am block, but it was disgusting.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Is there a Democratic war over Sequester and benefit cuts?

    Yes,they’re for cuts, austerity and union busting.

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