President Barack Obama finally signed the Sequester into law, locking the infamous spending cuts into place, at least until this September. It is rare for a president to sign into a law a program that he actively opposes – President Obama called them "dumb" – so why did this one allow these cuts with relatively little confrontation?
At the risk of seeming weak, President Obama is engaging in a tactical withdrawal here, not a retreat. The president sees that no more can be done on the budget stalemate at this time; with public opinion favoring him, and a popular mandate still only four months fresh, he is better off using his political capital on other reforms.
With over half of his term gone, and a huge laundry list of initiatives still tabled, every move Obama makes is a time management puzzle. And with another inevitable fight on the budget scheduled for the summer, it is time for him to focus on other things for the spring.
What is next for the president now that the budget is, for the moment, a settled issue? According to the White House, he is going to emphasize projects that do not require budgetary support: a raise to the minimum wage, immigration, and housing, for example.
This strategic decision comes at a cost, however. Despite Obama's emphasis in the State of the Union address on education – particularly on preschool – Head Start is a sad casualty of the sequestration. The program faces $400 million in cuts. The president's hopes for more investment in the national infrastructure and research and development are also being dashed for the time being.
At the same time, Republicans in the House should expect a lot of schmoozing from the White House over the next six months. The president isn't giving up on the budget yet, and he's going to need allies for the next round.