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Senate Democrats: Never mind the Obamacare misdirection. Restore pre-sequester spending levels and save the economy. Send the restored budget to the House and use their own shutdown threat against them. Republicans will need Democratic votes to pass this in the House, and they should restore funding to get those votes.

Not Just Obamacare

House Republicans have done two things in their continuing resolution that keeps the government operating. One – the one getting all the attention – is they try to nullify the Obamacare law by defunding it. But there is another thing they are doing here. They lock in the terrible and cruel “sequester” budget levels as the new budget base. As Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the other day, “You cannot have any more cuts just for the sake of cuts. Right now you’re taking trophies.”

Talking Points Memo explains the strategy, in “How Conservatives Win In The Government Shutdown Fight Anyway,” writing “Even if conservatives lose the battle to defund Obamacare — and it’s a foregone conclusion that they will — they appear to have already won the real policy fight over a government shutdown, which was about spending.”

Conservatives win because Senate Democrats might accept pulling the Obamacare defunding out of this and sending it back for a House vote. This would mean “continuing spending at austerity levels ordered by sequestration — across-the-board cuts put in place under the 2011 debt limit agreement. And in doing so, they’ll surrender important leverage to replace the damaging spending cuts to the military along with programs like health care, education and scientific research.”

That’s the thing: Senate Democrats don’t have to accept the sequester spending cuts. Restore the proper budget levels before sending this back to the House. If Senate Democrats won’t restore spending, House Democrats must insist on this in return for their votes.

“Playing Into Dems’ Hands”

Republicans messed up here and it’s time to turn their game around on them. They are being blamed for their threats to shut down government; the public is angry. Now they are looking to be bailed out and they will need Democratic votes in the House. The New York Times lays it out in “Senate Democratic Leader Sets Stage for Budget Showdown.”

“Even Senate Republicans say Democrats have the votes to eliminate policy measures they find objectionable and to pass a spending bill unencumbered with policy prescriptions. The procedural fight may actually be playing into the Democrats’ hands. By delaying a final Senate vote until Sunday, Mr. Cruz would leave the House almost no time to add conditions to a stopgap spending bill. The House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, would face a stark choice: Accept the Senate measure or ensure a shutdown.”

Progressive Caucus Says No Votes Without Restoring Spending Levels

There are plenty of House Democrats ready to go along with this. Roll Call explains, in “Senators Should Replace Sequester, Progressive Caucus Leaders Urge,” “The co-chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus oppose the House-passed continuing resolution at $986 billion — and they want Democratic senators to join them.”

Progressive Caucus co-chairs Grijalva and Ellison sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying, in part:

As you know, the sequester budget has slowed our economic recovery and has deprived the most vulnerable Americans of assistance on which they rely. The economic and social harm resulting from the sequester will accelerate with each successive year. In contrast a clean [continuing resolution] would warrant support from the Democratic Caucus in the House.

We cannot support funding levels that add to the extensive damage already caused by the sequester. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the sequester could cost as many as 1.6 million jobs in 2014. It has already cut nutrition assistance to children, research for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’ s Disease, education for children from low-income families, disaster relief grants and other important programs that we entrust to the public sector. Extending post-sequester levels will create a dangerous new baseline that locks in historically low funding levels.

So there you have it. Republicans have been too clever by half. They need Democratic votes to get them out of their own mess. Letting them get away with these spending cuts just sets them up to take another hostage with the debt ceiling. Don’t let them get their way on this, and they’ll be forced to back off the debt-ceiling hostage-taking threat as well.

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