Sequester Blues: Republicans & Democrats Exchange Stupidity, Media Plays Along

by
Owen Poindexter
If you have noticed an abnormal amount of Washington stupidity around the sequester, it's because game theory dictates that people act unreasonable for at least another day or two.

Only one thing explains how Democrats and (especially Republicans) are treating the incoming sequester, and it's not common sense, good policy or even political optics. It's game theory. The media has been focused on what will happen if the sequester hits, as they should, but they are ignoring something that should be obvious by now: until we get very close to the sequester deadline, making real offers is a dominated strategy. A dominated strategy is one that gets beat at every possible permutation of what could happen next by an alternate strategy. Let's say that two weeks ago, Republicans made an offer to avert the sequester that Democrats could actually accept: Democrats would then treat that offer as the worst that they could get, and do their best with the remaining negotiation window to pull that offer to the left.

Also on Carbonated: Everything You Need To Know About The Sequester And What To Do About It

But wait, you say (if you are not a Republican trying to score political points), Obama has made an offer on the sequester, and it wasn't left of the left field foul line. That's true, and that is for two reasons: one, Obama is not completely over his first term infatuation with playing dominated strategies, and two, while we wait for actual negotiations to happen, both sides are trying to assert their sequester narrative on to the media. Democrats have staked their claim as the reasonable party that won't let the sequester happen. Republicans see political hay to be made in tying Obama and the Democrats to the sequester, such as with this Oscar-themed ad:

In 56 seconds we get "in denial" Nancy Pelosi speaking in some unknown context about the deficit, centrist Democratic Senator Max Baucus saying that the idea for the sequester came from the White House, a pundit essentially repeating this, and then the ad tries to create legitimacy by showing two people 99.99% of America hasn't heard of: Nick Rahall and John Barrow (inexplicably holding a bunch of grapes). Then, of course, we finish with Obama, receiving the award for worst idea for the sequester.

Republicans are trying to work with all the media coverage about how the sequester is bad. Yes, the sequester is bad, because it's designed to be. The whole point is that both parties would want to avoid it, and so they would have to make a deal. Democrats are trying to say, "look, we are reasonable people who will make a deal to avoid this bad thing," Republicans are going for, "the sequester is bad, and it was Obama's idea." They will both just keep repeating their lines to try and improve their public position so that they have more leverage when negotiation actually starts.

That's 99% of what's happening right now, but the media generally only covers what is being said, not why (and why this is all the negotiating we are going to get until the deadline is within sight). It's a weird issue, but not so complicated that the media can't explain it. If real damage is done by the sequester there will be plenty of blame to go around, but when the media obediently reports Republican attempts to link Obama to the genesis of the sequester, they ignore that both sides voted for it, and the issue should be less how it came to be, and more about how it should end.

Oh, and get ready for yet ANOTHER round of shenanigans in late March when we have to raise the debt ceiling again.

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