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U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) (L) looks on as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media on the
Republicans might have more luck seeking leverage if they knew what it meant.
Politico's David Rogers gets to the bottom of what the GOP's newfound enthusiasm for sequestration is really all about:
Fresh from their 2010 election victory, House Republicans wasted no time demanding $65 billion in cuts from discretionary spending, setting off an appropriations fight that only ended in April 2011 after narrowly avoiding a wartime government shutdown.

Two years later, the GOP is back, endorsing a second, almost identical $69 billion appropriations cut — not because the party really believes in the reductions but because it’s looking for leverage to force President Barack Obama to accept alternative savings from benefit programs like Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps.

Unlike 2010, that $69 billion budget cut doesn't represent a new proposal, however. Instead, it would be the first wave of the sequestration cuts that both parties voted for during the 2011 debt limit fiasco. Rogers does the math, demonstrating just how severe the austerity measures would be:
Discretionary spending for 2013 is now set at $1.043 trillion but would drop below $980 billion and quite possibly to $974 billion under automatic spending cuts set to take effect March 1. That takes the government solidly into political territory previously defined by only the conservative Republican Study Committee, which had championed a budget plan last year to bring appropriations down to $931 billion and even lower in 2014.

Just seven months will be left in the 2013 fiscal year to absorb this cut, meaning the impact will be severe for many agencies. Compounding the havoc is the fact that large departments like defense must manage these cuts while living under an already rigid continuing resolution set to expire March 27.

Rogers quotes House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon saying that he's resigned himself to the view that the sequester spending cuts are going to happen, but keep in mind that this is the same Buck McKeon who last year said he was so deeply opposed to those spending cuts that he regretted his 2011 vote for the debt limit deal that created the cuts in the first place. It's not just McKeon: other Republicans on his committee are aghast at the coming cuts. During the presidential campaign last year, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan regularly attacked President Obama for signing them into law, even though Ryan had voted for them. So it's clear Republicans do not like the spending cuts as they currently exist and do not want them to take place.

Continue below the fold for more on how Republicans are pushing Democrats to support the one thing that they like even less than the sequester's spending cuts.

The problem that Republicans have is that as much as they loathe these spending cuts, they also represent their biggest legislative victory. Remember, these cuts were the price they insisted on in exchange for lifting the debt limit in 2011. So on the one hand, they don't want to see the cuts take place, but on the other hand, they don't want to get completely get rid of the cuts either. And what we're left with is a situation where Republicans are threatening to accept the cuts that they don't want unless they get a different set of cuts—cuts to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and food stamps—in exchange.

But while I understand that position, it's hard to see how they think that gives them leverage. It's absolutely true that Democrats oppose the spending cuts in the sequester every bit as much as Republicans oppose them. But the GOP's public position is that they want the one thing that Democrats think would be even worse than letting the sequestration move forward and that is gutting the safety net in order to bail out military contractors.

The other day, an aide to the Republican head of the House's tax committee said his party was open to new revenue through tax reform. If that's true, it would pave the way for a deal because President Obama has long been on record in support of replacing at least some of the sequester's spending cuts with a mix of tax increases and "modest" cuts to non-discretionary programs like Social Security and Medicare. (This is basically the "grand bargain" that he has sought, for better or for worse, throughout his presidency.) Maybe that's where Republicans are ultimately interested in going, but whatever their ultimate goal, the fact they think endorsing cuts to food stamps, Medicare, and Social Security gives them leverage to increase spending on defense programs that we don't need shows they have a long way to go before becoming sane.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Gutless Craven GOP wants President Obama (8+ / 0-)

    ... to propose cuts in discretionary domestic spending and the social safety nets.

    The Republicans have wised up since Election Day 2012, to the extent they realize there are a lot of voters in that 47%. That their high conservative principles resonate with their own constituencies only so long as they don't get specific.

    That's an understandable ploy for Republican office holders to duck having to change or accept more risk ... but we mustn't let 'em.

    2014 IS COMING. Build up the Senate. Win back the House : 17 seats. Plus!

    by TRPChicago on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:17:29 AM PST

  •  I will never "get" the DC Republican mindset (21+ / 0-)

    What possible self-righteous thrill could a person get depriving someone less fortunate or less capable - of food? Or access to a doctor when they are sick or in pain?

    And most of them wearing their purported "Christianity" on their sleeves.

    Sick, sick, sick.

    The Aggressively Ignorant Caucus is getting aggressively ignorant again.

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:19:19 AM PST

  •  Forgive my ignorance, (0+ / 0-)

    but where are these impending spending cuts occurring? Any spending cuts would be bad during this economic downturn cycle, but some are far worse than others, of course--especially when viewed through a progressive lens.
    Let's assume a fantasy world where the Dems in power stolidly reject any new compromises and allow these cuts to move forward as originally slated. What's the macro take on the effects?

    "Lone catch of the moon, the roots of the sigh of an idea there will be the outcome may be why?"--from a spam diary entitled "The Vast World."

    by bryduck on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:19:51 AM PST

    •  From the OMB: (0+ / 0-)

      In their 2012  report  on the budgetary effects of the sequestration:

      However, the report leaves no question that the sequestration would
      be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments, and core government func­
      tions.  Under the assumptions required by the STA, the sequestration would result in a 9.4
      percent reduction in non-exempt defense discretionary funding and an 8.2 percent reduction
      in non-exempt nondefense discretionary funding. The sequestration would also impose cuts
      of 2.0 percent to Medicare, 7.6 percent to other non-exempt nondefense mandatory programs,
      and 10.0 percent to non-exempt defense mandatory programs

      "In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican." - H. L. Mencken

      by SueDe on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 09:51:07 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  benefit programs (7+ / 0-)

    I like your choice of words.  I think we liberals should never use the term "entitlements" when describing Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.  I would actually prefer that the term "Social benefit programs" be used.  Connotations are important in winning public favor.

  •  I wish the president would do this (7+ / 0-)

    Ask for 150% of what you want and negotiate down to 100%. Unfortunately, in one of his books he talks about how he think that negotiating tactic is dishonest.

  •  so nobody wanted them (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    svboston


    but enough of each party voted for them anyway, and now we're facing - A FISCAL CLIFF ! OMG.  The lion's share of the sequester cuts are coming from the Pentagon.  Which - considering we are trying to wind down the Afghanistan war - would be appropriate.

    It's the discretionary across-the board federal cuts that are going to hurt the most; and will disproportionately hurt this year due to the fact that federal spending to date (we are coming up on the middle of the 2nd quarter of 2013) has been at the pre-sequestration rates, which will mean a much larger percentage of cuts for the remainder of 2013: there could be widespread government furloughs and program cancellations.  Democrats don't want the discretionary budget cuts, and Republicans don't want the military cuts.

    "Kossacks are held to a higher standard. Like Hebrew National hot dogs." - blueaardvark

    by louisev on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:24:46 AM PST

    •  And so, as always before, will the Dems (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Losty, PhilJD, svboston

      throw away their advantageous position to avoid the prospect of anything bad happening in the short term?

      "Lone catch of the moon, the roots of the sigh of an idea there will be the outcome may be why?"--from a spam diary entitled "The Vast World."

      by bryduck on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:26:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Furloughs at most agencies are unlikely (0+ / 0-)

      We have seen these cuts coming for a long time now, and things have to been to prevent furloughs. My office is currently operating at 50% of the billets that we are technically budgeted for because the agency has self imposed a hiring freeze and our services have not been affected. When our budget gets cut, they plan to eliminate those empty positions.

      I'm not saying there won't be furloughs and program cuts in some places, but it's not like the government is going to come to a screeching halt because of it.

      •  not every agency is doing this though (0+ / 0-)

        at the agency I am working at (I am a contractor on a short-term contract, so it's not really a primary concern for me) they are very much talking about furloughs and program cuts, such as cancelling IT initiatives, etc.

        "Kossacks are held to a higher standard. Like Hebrew National hot dogs." - blueaardvark

        by louisev on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 09:08:42 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  This... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, TRPChicago, FiredUpInCA, svboston

    Is the new GOP strategy.  They know their supporters demand less spending, but they also know how much spending helps their district.  So why not let Obama make unpopular cuts so you can chastize him and at the same time show how you cut the deficit?  No one will put 2 and 2 together.  

  •  You're doing it again! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, zinger99, RUNDOWN

    This site keeps posting pictures of Eric Can'tor on the front page, ruining my day. You need to stop! I need to see less of this scheming sleazebag and his slimy mug.

    Jon Husted is a dick.

    by anastasia p on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:33:55 AM PST

  •  careful what you wish for (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite

    these guys are pathetic, stupid, cowards.

    They took the country hostage to force spending cuts they now have to go back to their districts and explain, and it won't be popular.   I intellectually understand the importance of universal sufferage, but when confronted with enduring Republican stupidity and intransigence damaging this country over and over again,  emotionally, I don't understand why we let them vote.

  •  It's always been obvious that sequestration (0+ / 0-)

    gives the Dems an enormously strong hand, because it includes Defense cuts the Thugs bitterly oppose...

    if they're willing to play that hand.

    It's unsettling that the Dems remain unwilling to fully use the leverage they have.

    When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill...

    by PhilJD on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:36:11 AM PST

  •  It's a smart tactic... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, svboston, joe from Lowell

    Because it makes them look strong on cuts they know will never happen because it would be quick austerity cuts and crash the economy.  

    They know Dems will not go for it.   Dems should be smart enough to know the GOP doesn't really want it either.  But they'll probably negotiate against themselves.  

    Call your House Rep and Senators and tell them your a-ok with the sequester cuts happening rather than cutting one penny from SS, Medicare or Medicaid.  

    "The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self awareness" -Annie Savoy (Bull Durham)

    by Jacoby Jonze on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:39:08 AM PST

  •  On a different subject, the Senate Dems caved (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    svboston

    on filibuster reform. "limiting the GOP's use of the filibuster but ensuring the minority party has the right to offer amendments on the floor"

    Wow.  A big yawn was had by all, followed by snickering from the GOPer senators.

    "Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others" Robert F. Kennedy

    by realwischeese on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:40:41 AM PST

    •  It was Sen. Reid who caved, not "Democrats." (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      zinger99, realwischeese

      Wait around long enough and ennui and attrition will erode anything major.

      Allegedly "majority" leader Reid appears once again to have turned our majority over to his colleagues, those "gentlemen" on the Far and Obstructionist Right.

      If he had used the leverage he has as Majority Leader, he could get 51 votes for significant filibuster reforms. And every senator would have respected him for it. Grudgingly, perhaps, but he would not jeopardize an iota of their respect for being tough. Moreover, he would be believed in the future when he pushed and shoved. Now ...

      2014 IS COMING. Build up the Senate. Win back the House : 17 seats. Plus!

      by TRPChicago on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 09:11:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Is Boehner aware of the loathing in Cantor's eyes (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, FiredUpInCA, joe from Lowell

    when they're together?

    Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.

    by darthstar on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:48:23 AM PST

  •  The defense cuts are mindless, BUT (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    milkbone, joe from Lowell

    They are of the right magnitude. It would be nice if they just told SecDef to enact the level of cuts evenly per year as he saw fit instead of making it a straight across the board cut.

    I'm not sure how you get Congress to make deep enough cuts in defense otherwise.

    We get what we want - or what we fail to refuse. - Muhammad Yunus

    by nightsweat on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:51:12 AM PST

  •  Politicians publicly embrace cuts they don't want? (0+ / 0-)

    Really?

    Huh.  How many dimensions is that?

    Art is the handmaid of human good.

    by joe from Lowell on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 09:52:31 AM PST

  •  BS (0+ / 0-)

    This is bs. Once again in the hope that bipartisanship will cure the nihilism in the  GOP, the Dems have negotiated away an opportunity. This just stinks and I don't want to read someone's attempt to sugar coat yet another compromise that has no purpose.

    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. ~ Hunter S. Thompson

    by plh225 on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 10:36:02 AM PST

  •  The GOP will stand no new taxes (0+ / 0-)

    Period.  

    If you think they're bluffing, look how many of them were ready to crash over the cliff in the House in December, when they were getting 88% of the Bush Tax Cuts made permanent.  I believe the GOP House is very willing to let sequester take effect.

    1.  It implements drastic cuts to domestic programs.
    2.  It avoids another tax increase of any kind.
    3.  Obama has to make the defense cuts, which will make NOBODY (except DKOS) happy.  They can then campaign in 2014 against the Dems for being soft on defense.
    4.  They can always bring the defense spending back in a future deal, but the domestic cuts will be permament.
    5.  They'd never get Obama and Dems to agree to those domestic cuts again.

    There are so many reasons why this is a good deal for republicans and the people who vote for them (except for defense contractors in the short term).  I'd say there is ZERO chance that the GOP calls the sequestration off without at least getting Chained CPI and a 67 Medicare age.

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