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John Boehner chokes up before being sworn for his second term as Speaker of the House.
Well, wouldn't you also be upset if you had to lead today's House GOP?
Just a few days ago, House Speaker John Boehner backed off his debt limit threats by telling The Wall Street Journal that the debt limit was "not the ultimate leverage" for House Republicans seeking spending cuts. Instead:
Mr. Boehner says he has significant Republican support, including GOP defense hawks, on his side for letting the sequester do its work. "I got that in my back pocket," the speaker says. He is counting on the president's liberal base putting pressure on him when cherished domestic programs face the sequester's sharp knife. Republican willingness to support the sequester, Mr. Boehner says, is "as much leverage as we're going to get."

That leverage, he reasons, is what will force Democrats to the table on entitlements. "Think of it this way. We already have an agreement [capping] discretionary spending for 10 years. And we're already in our second year of it. This whole discussion on the budget over the next several months is going to be about these entitlements."

So, in John Boehner's world, Republicans are perfectly willing to let the sequester's spending cuts move forward unless Democrats are willing to axe Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to avoid them. He's found his BATNA and he's happy with it—or so he says.

Unfortunately for him, Boehner's running an obvious bluff. Don't ask me. Ask members of his own party:

One defense-minded Republican lawmaker said Boehner’s position would amount to a broken promise to his conference.

“In order to get the Republican Conference to pass the debt-limit increase last time, he promised them sequestration would not go in place,” the Republican House member said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “To be using sequestration and these defense cuts in the next debt-limit talks certainly is pretty bad déjà vu for the Republican Conference.”

The lawmaker doubted Boehner had the support he claimed from Republican defense hawks.

“I believe the president wants sequestration cuts to occur, and the Republicans don’t,” the member said. “It is the No. 1 priority for the Armed Services Committee to stop.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) as well as an aide to the head of the Armed Services Committee. In other words, Boehner has it exactly wrong: when it comes to the sequester, Democrats, not Republicans, have the leverage.

From Boehner's perspective, the worst thing about this is that not only are members of his conference already undercutting his negotiating posture on the sequester, he can't take back his admission that the debt limit wasn't the GOP's "ultimate point of leverage." Basically, Boehner was calling his own debt limit bluff—and now his colleagues are calling his sequester bluff. No matter how you look at it, Boehner is in a weak position, a fact that should give Democrats the courage to hold their ground.

Originally posted to The Jed Report on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 08:01 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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