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Seeing the sequester forest for the sequester trees

We've spent a fair amount of time looking at the details of the sequestration fight, so perhaps now is a good time to appreciate the forest instead of the trees.

The Washington Examiner's Byron York, with whom I rarely ever agree, notices an overarching problem with the Republican message.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner describes the upcoming sequester as a policy "that threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more."

Which leads to the question: Why would Republicans support a measure that threatens national security and thousands of jobs?

It's puzzling, isn't it? With nine days to go before this self-inflicted wound begins to do real damage, the Republican message seems to have three parts: (1) the sequester would do real harm to the country; (2) Republicans will allow it to happen anyway; and (3) this is a political winner for the GOP.

I'll confess that I often struggle to understand how congressional Republicans see the world, but this fiasco in the making is puzzling, even for the GOP. Indeed, York's question need not be rhetorical -- if Republicans believe the sequester cuts are awful for America, why are they imposing it on America?

York, a conservative in good standing, added, "The effect of Boehner's argument is to make Obama seem reasonable in comparison. After all, the president certainly agrees with Boehner that the sequester cuts threaten national security and jobs. The difference is that Obama wants to avoid them."

This, too, is exactly right. Democrats and Republicans agree that the sequester is dangerous, but Democrats are ready to reach a compromise and the GOP isn't. This is a winner for Republicans, how?

And in the larger context, isn't Byron York's incredulity evidence that maybe the right isn't entirely unified when it comes to the GOP's strategy?

Keep in mind, it's not just York.

The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol today urged his party to rethink the "deeply irresponsible" approach that allows the sequestration cuts to happen.

But wait, say Republican tacticians, it's a chance to gain leverage against the president.

Leverage for what? The GOP pols who talk about "leverage" never explain what they're going to use that leverage for. The Republican House can and should prevent further tax increases, and for that matter domestic spending increases, regardless of how the sequester battle turns out. The sequester gives Republicans no leverage here. And the House will have no more ability to insist on needed entitlement reforms or on the shape of next year's overall budget with the sequester in effect than if it's not.

The good news is, there's one solution that should make just about everyone happy: just turn the damn thing off. There's no reason these automatic cuts have to happen -- all Congress has to do is decide not to hurt the country on purpose. Democrats and Republicans could go back to fighting over the budget and related fiscal issues, the deficit will continue to shrink, and the economy will continue to slowly recover.

Policymakers put this sword of Damocles over their own heads, and there's no reason they can't undo what they've done, putting the sword away.

But this won't happen because Republicans -- the folks who agree this sequester is so very dangerous -- refuse to even consider turning it off.