Supercommittee Dem: GOP trying to 'weasel out' of sequestration cuts

A leading Democrat this week accused Republicans of trying to "weasel out" of the automatic cuts triggered after the budget supercommittee failed to reach a deal on deficit reduction.

Rep. Xavier Becerra, a member of the recently dissolved deficit panel, noted that the Republicans' campaign message last year focused largely on slashing deficits. The California Democrat wondered why some GOP leaders are now trying to nullify the spending cuts set to take effect under sequestration.

"You just can’t have candy, you have to eat the vegetables at some point," Becerra, vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, told reporters in the Capitol. "You ran on saying you were for reducing deficits. Shame on you if all of a sudden now you're saying you don't like the medicine you prescribed and now you're trying to weasel out of it."

Becerra, who had joined other Democratic leaders in pushing for a much larger deficit-reduction package, said the $1.2 trillion in cuts under sequestration is progress, but suggested Congress shouldn't stop there as lawmakers try to rein in deficit spending that's recently soared above $1 trillion annually.

"Even though the missed opportunity was great with the supercommittee, we’re still going to see deficit savings – 1.2 trillion [dollars] if nothing else is done," he said. "Hopefully, some more will be done."

Created as part of the law raising the federal debt ceiling this summer, the supercommittee was charged with slashing at least $1.2 trillion in deficit spending over the next decade or automatic cuts of the same level – split evenly between defense and civilian programs – would take effect. Last week, the leaders of the deficit panel threw in the towel, conceding that sharp partisan differences over tax reform prevented such an agreement. Without congressional action, the sequestration cuts will begin in 2013.

The threat to defense programs has caused an outcry from leading Republicans in both chambers — including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Rep. Buck McKeon (Calif.) — who are eying legislation to nullify sequestration's effect on the Pentagon.

More recently, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said he'd be open to rolling back the sequestration cuts in return for securing an extension of the payroll tax holiday — a central component of the Democrats' jobs agenda.

President Obama, however, has warned Congress that he'll veto any legislation that rolls back the automatic cuts — a vow reiterated Wednesday by White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"The sequester was designed to be so onerous — to have the kinds of cuts that were so objectionable to members of both parties in Congress that they would never come to pass — that they would force Congress to work hard and reach a compromise that was responsible and balanced to reduce our deficit and deal with our long-term debt challenge,” Carney told MSNBC.

“The president believes that the very nature of the sequester needs to stay the same to keep the pressure on Congress to do its job.”

Some GOP leaders have also suggested that the cuts under sequestration should remain in place. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), for instance, said he was "disappointed" with the supercommittee's failure to reach a deal, but vowed that the "the House will forge ahead with the commitments we have made."

Rep. John Larson (Conn.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday that there will always be a natural tendency for lawmakers to protect their favorite programs. "But," Larson added, "we also have the president saying that a deal is a deal, and we had John Boehner saying a deal is a deal, and that they think that sequestration should go forward.

"People will certainly resort to protecting their interests," Larson said, "but I don’t see anyone diverting from the goal of trying to come up with the savings that can be achieved."