WASHINGTON — With time running short and little real effort under way to avert automatic budget cuts that take effect on Friday, substantial and growing wings of both parties are learning to live with — if not love — the so-called sequester.
“It’s going to happen," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a leading conservative voice in the House. “It’s not the end of the world."
For weeks, President Barack Obama has barnstormed the country, warning of the dire consequences of the cuts to military readiness, educators, air travel and first responders.
This has taken place even as the White House acknowledges that some of the disruptions will take weeks to emerge.
The reverse side has gone unmentioned: Some of the most liberal members of Congress see the cuts as a rare opportunity to whittle down Pentagon spending. The poor are already shielded from the worst of the cuts, and the process could take pressure off the Democratic Party, at least in the short run, to tamper with Social Security and Medicare.
At the same time, the president gets some relief from the constant drumbeat of budget news to focus on his top policy priorities: immigration and gun control.
And Republicans, while denouncing the level of military cuts and the ham-handedness of the budget scythe, finally see the government shrinking in real dollars.
“There are certainly many of us who realize we have got to get spending under control," said Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., who served on the joint congressional committee that was appointed to reach a deficit deal to avert the cuts but failed. “This is a crude way to do it, but at least it’s moving in that direction."
The bipartisan talking point has held that the $1.2 trillion in cuts over a decade, established in the 2011 Budget Control Act, were intended to be so onerous to both sides that they would force Republicans and Democrats to unite around a bipartisan, comprehensive deficit package that raised taxes and slowed entitlement spending.
In fact, almost the opposite has proved true. The sword of Damocles turns out to be made of Styrofoam.
“I don’t think it was effective," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, another member of the joint committee. “I said it at the time. I said it before the process. I said it after. We would have been better off without the sequester."
Democrats involved in the negotiations were careful to make sure that the automatic spending cuts mostly exempted the disadvantaged. In back-room talks, Republicans pushed for a 4 percent cut to health care providers who serve Medicare patients. Democrats cut it to 2 percent, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a member of the joint panel.
Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., another member, said his party was not about to let the automatic cuts hit health care, after the long fight over the Affordable Care Act. Instead, they would follow a template established by earlier deficit deals.
“The Democratic side fought very hard to make sure the most vulnerable would not be hit as hard as they usually are," he said.
Republicans protected uniformed military personnel and made sure no cuts would fall on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. Most important, they made sure that failure to reach a bipartisan deal would not set off automatic tax increases, a decision that may have made the automatic cuts inevitable, Republican negotiators now concede.