Five Best Thursday Columns

Matthew Yglesias on the stupidity of sequestration, Caroline Baum on Paul Ryan's deficit elimination plan, Daniel Gross on the GDP report, Erick Erickson on Rubio's immigration play, and Rory Carroll on Venezuela's post-Chavez void. 

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Matthew Yglesias in Slate on the stupidity of sequestration Is everyone ready for the sequel to December's budget fight, Fiscal Cliff 2: This Time It's Sequestral? Well, it's coming to a 24-hour news channel near you, whether you want to see it or not. And like most bloated Hollywood sequels, this partisan battle is going to be dumb, writes Matthew Yglesias. Sequestration refers to the huge across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to take effect in March unless Congress can reach a deal to avert it. And if they let it go through, Yglesias writes, "It'll drag down the economy, impair the functioning of the government across the board, and do nothing to improve America's fiscal sustainability over the long run."

Caroline Baum in Bloomberg View on Paul Ryan's deficit elimination plan Knowing full well the damage sequestration could do to the economy, some members of Congress are still talking about it as if it's a viable option. Republican House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan has said it'll likely go through if House Republicans can't find common ground with Democrats. And even if it is averted, Ryan thinks he can eliminate the deficit in a decade. Taking a look at his plan, Caroline Baum skeptically writes, "Remember, this is the same crew that had to swallow $1.2 trillion of automatic cuts in discretionary spending because it couldn’t come up with them on its own, and then freaked out when it looked as if those cuts might come to pass. And now they’re going to tackle entitlements?"

Daniel Gross in The Daily Beast on the GDP report Yesterday's report on the state of the U.S. economy showed GDP shrinking by 0.1 percent, and a lot of people flipped out. But Daniel Gross writes that it wasn't such a downer, considering that most of the contraction came about due to less defense spending. If you dig into the report, you'll find that "the fundamentals of the private-sector economy are relatively strong," Gross writes. "But we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that Washington is no longer a threat to the recovery. To a degree, austerity at the federal level is just beginning ... Bipartisan pressure for a deficit deal remains high. And the sequestration—a set of indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts—is supposed to go into effect in a matter of weeks."

Erick Erickson in Red State on Rubio's immigration play As part of the Gang of Eight immigration reformers, Florida Senator Marco Rubio has emerged as the conservative face of the push to modernize the United States' immigration process. At this early stage in the reform process, optimism is high for a bipartisan deal. But for the plan to pass, Rubio will have to convince more staunch conservatives that offering undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship is the right thing to do. Conservative columnist Erick Erickson remains unconvinced. "I think this plan is warmed over McCain-Kennedy and will do nothing to solve the problem," he writes. "On the specific plan, for lack of legislation, it is clearly written by a group of men who seemingly love government, but do not love free markets, small businesses, or individuals. It is a plan based on faith in government, not free enterprise or the American people."

Rory Carroll in New Statesman on Venezuela's post-Chavez void Though pictures of Hugo Chávez on his deathbed were faked, the cancer-stricken Venezuelan president likely won't be around for very much longer. Which leaves the country with a worrying void, argues Rory Carroll. The elected autocrat kept dissenters at bay for so many years, that it's hard to imagine who will rise to power except for Chávez proteges. "He relied on the ballot box for legitimacy while concentrating power and eroding freedoms, shunting Venezuela into a twilight zone where you could do what you wanted—until the president said you couldn’t," Carroll writes. Looking to Venezuela's future, "The longer-term challenge will be the economy and rebuilding institutions—ministries, the judiciary, the armed forces, local government—which have been gutted and have become hyper-politicised. It will be messy and painful. At such times Venezuela usually clamours for a strong leader who promises short cuts. Too often, it finds one."

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