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The GOP Begins to Find Its Groove

It’s been clear for some time that President Obama’s strategy on sequestration cuts–to speak as if they would unleash the seven plagues from the book of Revelations and, when that didn’t occur, attempt to magnify pain on the American people–has been a failure. The latest evidence of this was late last week when President Obama and congressional Democrats jettisoned their position that they would resolve the issue of furloughed air traffic controllers only in the context of a broader agreement to end all the sequestration cuts.

The House, by a margin of 361-to-41, approved a deal to give the secretary of transportation the financial flexibility to shift hundreds of millions of dollars to the air traffic control system–flexibility that Republicans have insisted on and Mr. Obama originally refused. (The House vote came after the Senate acted.)

Originally, the president and Democrats said they would only replace the sequester cuts with tax increases. They are now, slowly and against their will, embracing the GOP approach of applying cuts in a reasonable and prioritized way.This development is a vindication for those who argued earlier this year that Republicans should avoid a showdown on raising the debt ceiling, which the GOP would almost certainly have lost, in order to move toward the much stronger ground of sequestration cuts. Republicans have made other wise tactical decisions as well, from Speaker of the House John Boehner insisting that the Senate take up President Obama’s gun control measures first (where those measures died) to Senate Republicans avoiding an ill-considered filibuster on background checks led by Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul.

Republicans have a long way to go before their party is where it needs to be. But this year they have mostly made the right decisions in the right order. They’ve demonstrated patience and prudently picked their battles. And they now head into May in a stronger position than they were and with the president on the defensive, with many parts of his second-term agenda crippled and with public approval for the Affordable Care Act now down to 35 percent.

It’s too early for Republicans to say happy days are here again. But the worst days may have passed, even as the storm clouds for the president seem to be gathering.