The Speaker’s Lobby: Wait ‘Til Next Year

By: Chad Pergram, FOX News

Pitchers and catchers have reported. Grapefruit and Cactus League games begin in a few days. And so the jawing begins.

Why isn’t Carl Crawford leading off for the Dodgers? The Reds should leave Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen. Was Baltimore for real last season?

It’s not that baseball fans can do anything about the buttons the managers push for all of these clubs. But couch jockeys sure cheer and boo and Tweet. They exhort their views on sports talk shows and upbraid the managers on Facebook.

Why did he pull Strasburg? Has Lincecum lost his form? Will the Pirates ever improve?

Most lawmakers, including many in Congressional leadership, find themselves in the same position today as baseball fans. Many agree that the sequester (a set of draconian, arbitrary spending cuts) shouldn’t happen. But they sure can’t do much to make sure it doesn’t happen. Baseball teams are sometimes limited by their ability to spend money on big-time players. They’re harnessed even more if the players they do invest in fail to perform or get hurt. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have spent a lot of money over the past 20 years and scored production from stars. The Kansas City Royals have not. So, if Kansas City had unlimited resources, it would have long ago snagged C.C. Sabathia or Alex Rodriguez. Because Kansas City is a small market club, it dumped stars Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Zack Greinke as they came into their prime.

Congress is now like the Kansas City Royals. The Royals have only won more than 77 games (out of 162) three times in the past 23 years – mainly because it doesn’t have a payroll to work with. And Congress can’t turn off the sequester. At this point, there simply doesn’t appear to be the right combination of votes in both the House and Senate to extinguish it.

But, like those baseball fans, lawmakers and other policy figures here in Washington can sure grouse about things. And with the sequester in line to hit on March 1, the lines to the talk shows are jammed. Everyone is weighing in with what they would do – or begging those in charge to go after so-and-so via a trade or bench that guy who can’t hit lefties.

On Tuesday morning, President Obama stood in front of rows of firefighters and paramedics to flay Republicans over the spending reductions.

“Are you willing to see a bunch of first responders lose their jobs because you have a special interest tax loophole? Are you willing to have teachers laid off or kids not have access to Head Start,” Mr. Obama asked. “People will lose their jobs.”

House GOP leaders repeatedly argued that they long ago passed not one but two bills to replace the sequester with targeted spending reductions.

“What other spending is the president willing to cut?” asked House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) then dialed in, noting the Senate would vote next week “on a plan to temporarily replace the harsh austerity of the sequester with a  combination of smart spending cuts and measures that close wasteful corporate tax loopholes and subsidies.”

But even if the Senate does muscle that package through, it’s doubtful it would go anywhere in the House. Hypothetically, it may be possible for a coalition of House Democrats and some Republicans to adopt something the Senate approves. But Republicans control the House. Boehner has made it clear he’s in no mood to delay the sequester again (Congress punted the sequester from January 2 to March 1 in the deal to avert the fiscal cliff). And there’s almost no way that Boehner would again shepherd a measure through the House that had a majority of Democratic support, leaving his conference in the dust. First of all, it’s doubtful he would be for whatever the Senate approved. Secondly, Boehner already helped escort two major bills across the finish line which commanded just a minority of votes from House Republicans.

The House okayed the fiscal cliff measure 257-167 on January 1, but with only 85 Republican yeas. The House then approved the emergency spending bill for Hurricane Sandy 241-180, but with only 49 Republicans casting ballots in favor.

So, the calls are pouring in. Twitter is on fire. Disqus is working overtime cleaning up the comments section. And everyone on Capitol Hill is suggesting who the managers should play in left field, who should close and who should bat cleanup.

On Tuesday morning, Rep. John Barrow (D-GA) offered his suggestions. Barrow authored a letter to Congressional leaders, urging them to reconstitute the supercommittee. Under the package that raised the debt limit in the summer of 2011, Congress created a supercommittee of bipartisan lawmakers from both bodies to assemble a package of at least $1.2 trillion in cuts. Otherwise, the indiscriminate cuts, known as the sequester would take effect. The supercommittee stumbled. So the sequester bears down on Washington.

“Despite the failure of the supercommittee to accomplish (its) goals last Congress, I am hopeful that, having learned more about the dire consequences of the sequester, we have a new sense of urgency,” wrote Barrow.

The triumvirate of Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) lambasted the president for his approach with the first responders.

“The president held another campaign event to blame Republicans for sequestration,” the trio wrote. “This country needs a Commander-in-Chief, not a Campaigner-in-Chief.”

Other lawmakers were more parochial.

Reps. Mike Michaud (D-ME) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) penned a missive to House leaders to express concern about how the sequester would impact workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Bath Iron Works. Both facilities would face major cuts if the sequester hits.

“In the coming months, they would cancel more ship repairs, including on the U.S.S. Miami, reduce ship operations and flying hours, and cut exercises and port visits,” Michaud and Pingree wrote. “These cuts will have a severe effect on the thousands of jobs in the defense supply chain in made up by dozens of small businesses throughout the state.”

The problem is that 269 House members, 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats, including Michaud and Pingree, voted for the measure which created the sequester. Of course, no one wants the sequester – because they presumed the supercommittee would either draw up a plan that could wind its way through Congress – or that Congressional leaders would figure out some other way to abate the sequester.

Now, there are lots of lawmakers with buyer’s remorse. How many New York Yankees fans extolled their club for bringing reigning American League MVP Alex Rodriguez over from the Texas Rangers in 2004? Certainly Rodriguez has performed, winning two more MVP’s. But Rodriguez is often the target of their derision now. It’s the same thing when the Cincinnati Reds picked up hometown boy Ken Griffey Jr. from the Seattle Mariners in 2000. Again, Griffey had some good years for Cincinnati. But the oft-injured Griffey was nowhere near the player he was in Seattle and often flamed on sports talk shows and in the newspapers.

So the fans are out in force. They can’t do much about the team President Obama and lawmakers of both parties assembled in that now-fated bill in the summer of 2011. Like a team loaded down with an overpriced superstar who isn’t putting up the numbers, they can’t move him. There are no takers. They’re stuck. And so far, there aren’t the votes to smother the sequester.

Unless something drastic happens soon, the roster is set. This is the team on the field. And if the sequester is a losing proposition, all the fans can holler about is that familiar refrain, “Wait ‘til next year…”

Because next year, is the midterm election.