WASHINGTON (AP) — Unlike in earlier rounds of budget brinkmanship, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans both seem content to fight out their latest showdown on the current terrain, let across-the-board spending cuts take effect on March 1 and allow them to stay in place for weeks if not much longer.
This time, there is no market-rattling threat of a government default to force the two sides to compromise, no federal shutdown on the short-term horizon and no year-end deadline for preventing a tax increase for every working American.
The rhetoric is reminiscent, for sure.
"So far at least, the ideas that the Republicans have proposed ask nothing of the wealthiest Americans or the biggest corporations," Obama said this week as he campaigned to pin the blame for any negative effects on his political opponents. "So the burden is all on the first responders, or seniors or middle class families," he said in comments similar in tone to his re-election campaign.
Republicans, standing on political ground of their own choosing, responded sharply to the president's fresh demand for higher taxes.
"Spending is the problem, spending must be the focus," said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, while Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky declared, "There won't be any easy off-ramps on this one. The days of 11th hour negotiations are over."
A crisis atmosphere could yet develop this spring, when hundreds of thousands or even millions of threatened government furloughs begin to take effect and the spending cuts begin to bite. Already, Republicans are considering legislation to give the administration greater flexibility in making the cuts, a step that could minimize the impact on the public. It's a step the White House says it opposes, although the depth of that conviction has yet to be tested.
At heart, the standoff is yet another indication of the political resistance to a compromise curbing the growth of Medicare, Medicaid and possibly Social Security, a step that both Obama and Republicans say is essential to restoring the nation's fiscal health. It is the last major remaining challenge in divided government's struggle, now in its third year, to reduce deficits by $4 trillion or more over a decade.
Counting the across-the-board cuts now beginning to command the nation's attention — at a 10-year cost of $1.2 trillion — the president and Congress have racked up more than $3.6 trillion in savings. Much came from spending, although legislation that Republicans let pass at year's end raised taxes on the wealthy to generate an estimated $600 billion for the Treasury over a decade.