The Washington Post tells us something that's been clear for a couple of weeks:
Less than a month after averting one fiscal crisis, Washington began bracing Tuesday for another, as lawmakers in both parties predicted that deep, across-the-board spending cuts would probably hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies on March 1.We've assumed all this time that Republicans would never, ever let the sequester cuts happen, because nothing on earth is more important to Republicans than a "strong defense," defined as massive amounts of Pentagon spending. We've thought that Republicans sincerely believe the country is in peril unless Pentagon spending is very, very high, and that their defense of the Pentagon budget is a sincere expression of what they think is best for the country.
... party leaders say they see no clear path to compromise, particularly given a growing sentiment among Republicans to pocket the cuts and move on to larger battles over health and retirement spending.
... Cuts to the military and the defense industry remain politically problematic. But Tuesday, even some of the Pentagon's most fervent champions seemed resigned to the likelihood that the cuts would be permitted to kick in....
We were chumps to believe that.
Posturing as champions of a strong defense is important to Republicans. But Republicans don't really give a crap about Pentagon cuts -- as long as they can blame Democrats for them.
Maybe all along they've known that they were using communism and terrorism and all the other threats from overseas as a ruse to jack up spending far beyond what we really need. Or maybe they've fallen for their own rhetorical nonsense -- specifically, the notion that the country is in peril whenever a Democrat is president by definition, no matter how much defense spending there is and how many bombs the president is dropping. So it's just categorically impossible for the country to be truly safe no matter how big the Pentagon budget gets, until the White House is restored to its rightful owner, the Republican Party.
Whatever the reason, we thought Pentagon cuts would be an effective gun to the head of Republicans because Republicans really care. They don't.
They just care about being seen as champions of a strong defense. They're happy to pocket the domestic cuts and have the opportunity to demagogue the Pentagon cuts. It turns out that they'd rather demagogue the Pentagon cuts than prevent them, if they also get cuts to programs that help poor and middle-class people. Now we know.