There is a revealing dichotomy among Republican leaders as the nation faces the sequester.
No, it’s not between the so-called establishment and the insurgent tea party.
Nor is it between deficit hawks and the neo-conservatives who want to keep military spending at extraordinarily high levels to fund all the wars they want others to fight.
No, this dichotomy is between those Republicans who govern versus those who merely posture, grandstand, play to the extremes among the party faithful. It pits Republican governors against Republicans in Congress, and it demonstrates the difference between responsibility and showmanship.
Governors attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association railed against the across-the-board spending cuts that Congress placed on itself in 2011, cuts intended to be so painful that no rational member would ever let them go through.
Republican and Democratic governors said those cuts, which go into effect this coming Friday, threaten jobs in their states and will undermine the fragile economic recovery. Republicans and Democrats urged Congress to strike a deal to suspend the cuts or, at the least, give them flexibility to set priorities to cut spending selectively.
One expects Democratic governors to oppose the sequestration. Republican opposition is more surprising, but equally evident.
“We are just saying — as you identify the federal cuts and savings — give us flexibility to make the cuts where they will do the least harm to our citizens,” said Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, a Republican and the vice chairwoman of the association. “Don’t balance the federal budget on the backs of state governments.”
Fallin urged “everyone to come together.”
Oklahoma is the reddest of red states, and Fallin, in two terms in the House of Representatives, had a reliably conservative voting record. But she is now governor of Oklahoma. As the state’s chief executive, she is responsible for the well-being of all Oklahomans, and she fears the consequences of a draconian sequester.
Similarly, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who has impeccable conservative credentials, has warned that automatic spending cuts would have a “potentially devastating impact” on his state. McDonnell wrote President Obama, “As we all know, the defense, and other, cuts in the sequester were designed to be a hammer, not a real policy.”
None of this impresses Republicans in Congress, who are determined to let the cuts go through. GOP leaders in Washington seem to think shrinking the size of government trumps governing responsibly.
The recent acceptance by Republican governors of the expansion of Medicaid with federal money from Obamacare is another instance of the pressures of governing forcing even the most conservative of Republicans to behave responsibly.
As right-wingers in Congress — such as Michele Bachmann – continue to waste time introducing bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act, seven Republican governors have signed on to the expansion of government-funded health care for the poor.
The latest is Rick Scott of Florida, a tea party favorite and outspoken critic of the law. A former hospital executive, Scott campaigned against Obamacare in his 2010 gubernatorial run; Governor Scott fought the law in court; and after the Supreme Court upheld it, Scott vowed defiance. “We’re not going to implement Obamacare in Florida,” he promised. “We’re not going to expand Medicaid.”
What’s changed? “This country is the greatest in the world,” the governor said, “and it’s the greatest because of how we value the weakest among us. It should’t depend on your Zip code or your tax bracket. No mother or father should despair over whether they have access to high-quality health care for their sick child. I cannot in good conscience deny Floridians that needed access to health care.”
Barack Obama couldn’t have said it better.