For Once, There Are No Political Winners in Washington

Lawmakers hurt themselves by letting sequestration happen, strategists say.

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The sequestration train is rolling toward March 1 and Republicans and Democrats don't appear to be busy trying to put on the brakes.

The automatic budget cutbacks will hit next week, and while everyone from House Speaker John Boehner to President Barack Obama agrees the across-the-board cuts will devastate the Department of Defense, public school teachers, and even congressional staffers, Congress is out of the office this week and Obama is just now picking up the phone to call Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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Strategists agree: This isn't a winning political issue for anyone.

"Everyone inside the Beltway is a loser because everyone has to fire somebody or not hire somebody and cut down on spending," says John Feehery, a GOP strategist who handled communications for former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. "If the economy slows down, all politicians get hit, and the blame game does not work."

Cutting spending has been a cornerstone of the Republican message since the party swept the House of Representatives in 2010, but GOP strategists say cutting spending this way is a gamble for the brand.

Says Feehery: "This helps the Republican brand because they are rolling back spending. The question is: Is this the wrong time for that and will Republicans get blamed?"

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According to a USA Today/Pew Research Center Poll out Thursday, 40 percent of Americans polled said they preferred letting budget cuts happen over no spending cuts at all. If sequester cannot be avoided, nearly 50 percent of Americans see it as Republican lawmakers' fault, while 31 percent would point fingers at the president, according to the poll.

"The president is going to be held responsible for what happens on his watch, but don't think for a second that the American people who have seen Republicans bring us to this point so many times before are going to think it is different this time," says Margie Omero, a Democratic strategist. "We have seen this movie before."

And it does not appear to be any different this time. The samesticking points remain: Republicans would replace sequestration with different budget cuts. Democrats would shift the cuts to a mix of new cuts and revenues by closing tax loopholes.

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More than 75 percent of Americans agree that deficit reduction should include a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, the poll revealed.

"If Republicans want to shake their image, they are going to have to come to the table with something balanced and that includes closing some tax loopholes," Omero says.

GOP strategists argue, however, that when it comes to the 2014 elections, sequestration won't affect Republicans fighting for re-election because the majority of them are in safe GOP districts that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

"They are not in much danger," strategist Feehery says. "The president would get the biggest share of the blame and because he is not up for re-election, whoever is on the ballot in 2016 will have a lot of explaining to do."

For now, it looks like the biggest loser in sequestration is the city responsible for it.

"Washington is going to get blamed and Washington is going to get hit," Feehery says.

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