Why Republicans Should Care Even More About the Sequester

The sequester officially hits on Friday and at this point, there’s no chance of avoiding it. If Congress and the President agree on a deal, when that deal is struck will determine how much damage the sequester ultimately causes.

The White House and Republicans have spent the last week not trying to avoid the cuts, but trying to lay the blame at the other’s feet. The GOP has ardently pushed the line that President Obama came up with the idea for the sequester and thus is responsible for it. The Administration has tried to scare the public and Congress into a deal by demonstrating how bad the cuts will be (cuts to teachers, airline delays, etc.). Yesterday, they released a state-by-state breakdown of how the cuts will effect different departments and programs in every state. The Washington Post has a nice interactive graphic of it here.Sequester state by state

As I read Wonkblog today, I came across a post detailing the states who receive the most in federal aid as a percentage of state revenues and thus are most exposed to sequester cuts. This wasn’t using White House data, though. It’s from a Pew Center of the States study from last December. That got me thinking: the senators of states more exposed to the sequester should have an even greater incentive to push for a deal to avert it. So, I went through Pew’s data and combined it with the partisan identity of the senators in each state. The result is to the right.

The states most exposed to the cuts are undeniably states with Republican Senators. Of the 20 states most exposed, 28 of the 40 senators in them are Republicans. In the 20 states least exposed, just 11 of the 40 senators are Republicans (28 are Democratic with one Independent). This isn’t a surprise though: Republican states receive a large share of federal funds and thus steep cuts to those dollars will hurt those red states the most. Given that, Republicans should have even greater incentive to cut a deal.

Now, let’s say that Republicans are worried enough about the deficit that they can swallow the cuts, even if they predominantly impact Republican states. What about the political prospects of senators in those states? The public is going to be upset with these steep funding cuts as polling shows that no one actually wants to cut anything outside of foreign aid. Senators in states who face deep budget cuts from the sequester are going to face a disgruntled constituency. Those up for reelection in 2014 will be at the greatest risk of voters giving them a one-way ticket out of Washington.

Thus, I went through and outlined each senate seat up for election in 2014 in bold. Here, neither Democrats or Republicans are in particularly good shape. In 2014, 36% (10/28) of Republican Senators in the 20 most exposed states are up for reelection while just 27% (3/11) of Republicans seats are up for grabs in the 20 least exposed states. The is true for Democrats as well. Of Democratic Senators in the most exposed states, half (6/12) are up for reelection, but in the least exposed states, just 39% (11/28) of Democratic seats are up.

What does this all mean?

While both Republican and Democratic senators are going to find themselves with a lot of angry constituents post-sequester, Republican senators are going to face even greater wrath. This should give them a further incentive to make a deal. Nevertheless, they have refused to consider any additional revenue thus far and without relaxing that demand, no deal is going to be struck. At this point, it looks like the GOP would rather accept the cuts and deal with angry constituents instead of cutting a deal with more revenue in it.

As for those up for reelection in 2014, they have significantly more incentive to make a deal as well, but this doesn’t seem to be having much of an effect on their decision-making either. Republican senators up for reelection in 2014 whose states will be deeply affected by the cuts still won’t agree to additional revenues and Democratic senators are not going to accept that, even if they are up for reelection in 2014 and reside in a state severely impacted by the sequester as well.

In the end, which states are most exposed to the sequester and how it affects different senators’ reelection prospects doesn’t seem to be impacting the negotiations at all. That’s not particularly surprising to me, but in 18 months, we may see some senators who wished that they’d advocated for a compromise harder.


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