By Bernie Becker and Jeremy Herb - 02/06/13 10:00 AM EST
House Republicans have no plans to vote again this month on their bill to replace automatic spending cuts scheduled to be implemented in just over three weeks.
The House-passed sequester replacement measure expired with the start of the new Congress, and GOP leaders would appear to face a tougher lift in passing the measure this time around.
The House barely passed the bill — 215 to 209 — in December, with 21 Republicans opposing the measure and no Democrats supporting it.
Five of the Republicans who voted “no” are no longer in Congress, but the GOP also has a smaller majority after losing a net of eight seats to Democrats in November’s election.
Approving the sequester measure again would be tempting because it would give Republicans more leverage in the fight over sequestration with President Obama.
Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to use a mix of new revenues and spending cuts to roll back at least part of the $85 billion in cuts scheduled for March 1.
Republicans and Obama are both eager to avoid blame if the cuts go into effect. Reduced defense spending led to a contraction in the U.S. economy at the end of last year, and the Congressional Budget Office has estimated allowing the $85 billion in cuts to go forward would reduce GDP by 0.7 percent. The GOP insists it could move legislation through the House again but that it’s time for Obama and Senate Democrats to approve their own replacement plan.
“The House has acted twice on replacing the sequester,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “Now, it’s time for the Senate and the White House to act.”
Republicans have become more reluctant to pass legislation that will almost certainly be dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Senate, and they want to force senators to take the sort of tough votes they believe happened in the House over the last two years.
Rank-and-file Republicans are frustrated that Senate Democrats have not approved a budget resolution for four years, and they lashed out at Obama this week for missing his deadline to present a budget this year. Democrats in the Senate haven’t produced a budget for fear it would expose splits in the party. The GOP is also frustrated because it views sequestration as the White House’s idea.
Republicans are emphasizing this week that sequestration was demanded by the White House as part of the 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling. They argue Obama and Senate Democrats should offer spending cuts to prevent it.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) stressed that the GOP would rather let the sequester go into effect than consent to more revenues after agreeing to a “fiscal cliff” deal that raised taxes on wealthier households.
“The president got tax increases without spending cuts 45 days ago. He ought to be able to take spending cuts without revenues today,” Cole told reporters on Tuesday.
“It’s either going to be the sequester as written, or a preferable reallocation of the spending cuts. But it’s going to be spending cuts,” he added.
Yet there are splits within the GOP over how hard the party should work to prevent the cuts.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who voted against the 2011 debt-ceiling deal because of sequestration, is not optimistic it will be stopped.
“There’s a reason a few of us voted against it, and it wasn’t just to say we voted against it,” said Hunter, who criticized Boehner last month for declaring that defense hawks would support letting sequestration happen. “We thought, ‘Once this thing starts, there’s no stopping it.’ And that’s exactly what happened now.”
Still, Republican defense hawks in the House and Senate also did not back the president’s latest call for new revenues as part of a short-term sequester deal.