GOP makes its stand

Republicans have chosen to take a hard line on the pending sequester cuts while avoiding talk of a government shutdown in late March.

Barring something unforeseen, $85 billion of defense and domestic spending will start to be sequestered March 1, and the political blame game will be going strong between now and then.

President Obama on Tuesday blamed Republicans for not taking action to avoid stanching the flow of federal monies, accusing the GOP of protecting the rich by not agreeing to close tax loopholes to fend off the spending reductions.
GOP leaders fired back, saying the fault is with president and that Obama needs to get serious about weaning the nation away from its deficit consumption habit.

When Congress returns next week, Senate Democrats and Republicans are expected to offer separate plans that would head off the sequester. But neither will have the votes to pass the upper chamber.

Obama on Tuesday said the sequester will be to blame if the unemployment rate ticks up. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office said that the sequester will cost 750,000 jobs.

Republicans, including Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerArizona GOP winner to join Freedom Caucus We need more congressional oversight on matters of war A warning to Ryan’s successor: The Speakership is no cakewalk MORE (Ohio), say sequestration is bad policy. He and other GOP officials note that the House has passed sequester legislation twice in the last Congress and that the idea for the across-the-board automatic spending cuts came from the Obama administration in the first place. (A House Republican aide recently bought the rights to www in another sign of the parties’ competing message wars.)

One way or the other, Republicans want to enact spending cuts, and they know they are unlikely to get a deficit agreement with Obama. In essence, they are taking what spending cuts they can get because they do not expect to get the spending cuts they want.

Politically, it’s an easier fight than the appropriations battle coming at the end of next month, or on the debt ceiling, which will be hit sometime between May and August. If lawmakers do nothing — a habit that was prevalent in the last Congress — the sequester will go into effect.

Yet, if Congress doesn’t pass an appropriations measure by March 27, the government will shut down.

It remains unclear what funding levels in the continuing resolution will become law, but any cuts in it will not be severe.

Conservatives will have to be content with the sequester cuts and the soon-to-be-unveiled House budget resolution. That nonbinding measure would balance the budget within 10 years and will be strongly opposed by the White House and congressional Democrats.

Obama has said he will not negotiate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, which will likely have to be addressed before the August recess. Some Republicans suggested after the election that the U.S. might go into default if Obama doesn’t backtrack.

Since then, Republicans have cooled their rhetoric on the debt ceiling. However, it is hard to see a “clean” debt-ceiling hike moving through the House this year.

That will be the summer battle on Capitol Hill. For now, the sequester is in the spotlight as both parties vie for the public relations edge.