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Opinion: Sequester debate offers House Republicans chance at redemption

Just when you thought the House Republicans were engaged in
a self-damaging demolition derby, they suddenly bring onto the track Jimmie
Johnson.

From the summer of 2011 until the end of 2012, House
Republicans effectively removed themselves as an entity that the American
people could look to for anything other than dysfunction and chaotic
misdirection.  They were not seen as
contributing to the process of leading the nation. To most folks on Main
Street, they seemed irresponsible and destructive.

{mosads}After the year-end “fiscal cliff” debacle, it did not look
like much would change as the backbench breast-beaters talked with great
bravado about how they would not allow a debt-ceiling extension. This was a
course of assured self-destruction.

The national media, joined by a president panting for the
chance for payback, were waiting to annihilate any remaining credibility
Republicans had as stewards of the government. Little Big Horn would have
looked like a win for Custer compared to what would have happened to the House
Republicans had they chosen to fight on the debt ceiling.

It was therefore something of a delight to see a sudden
burst of strategic reason prevail as the House Republicans turned their
attention away from the debt ceiling and toward the sequester.

There will never be a better chance for Republicans to
accomplish their goal of containing the rate of growth of spending than is now
presented by using the sequester as the vehicle of leverage.

One point two trillion dollars, all on the spending side, is
not small change.

The House Republicans have a huge opportunity here, but only
if they can hold everybody together in supporting using the sequester to exert
pressure on core Democratic interest groups.

This, of course, means that Republican defense hawks must be
willing to support the effort. The conventional wisdom is that they will not
give the House leadership that much running room. But if the defense hawks can
look beyond the present to the long-term implications of this critical fight,
they should be able to stand with the effort. 

As numerous military and congressional leaders have pointed
out, the single biggest threat to our defense structure is the weakening of our
nation as a result of the debt’s debilitating effect. 

This confrontation over the sequester will be the first real
opportunity to make the debate about spending restraint and specifically
entitlement reform — the issue which lies at the core of any long-term
correction of our fiscal house’s problems. 

There is no question that defense will be hit in the short
term as the sequester grabs hold, but if using it as leverage leads to real
progress, the benefits for our nation — and therefore our national defense —
will far outweigh any short-term hits.

The House Republicans will hold some serious cards on the
sequester — something that has not been true of any of the other recent clashes
between the GOP House and the president. They should play those cards and let
the sequester go forward.  It is unfortunate
that the effort will once again have a confrontational tone.

The president and his party have made it clear to any honest
observer that their interests do not lie with controlling the growth of
government.  They see revenues as being
the solution to deficits. They believe even with the historic expansion of the
federal government that has occurred in the last four years — an expansion that
will continue for the next four years — that more revenues can always be found
to abate the effects of this spending spree.

It will take a House GOP that is willing to unite behind the
sequester, and not give in regardless of its immediate effect on defense, to
get this discussion back onto the issue of entitlement reform and serious
spending restraint. 

If the House Republicans hold together on this, then the
Democratic leadership will have to consider reasonable proposals to replace the

$1.2 trillion in discretionary cuts caused by the sequester
with reforms of Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement accounts.  The debate, at last, will be on territory
that favors the Republicans.

This is a rare opportunity, especially for a group of people
who seemed to be intent upon defeating themselves.

It is, of course, the object of a demolition derby to bang
up the other guy’s car and not yours.

With a little luck and some forbearance from the defense
hawks, the House GOP may be on the verge of actually accomplishing this — and
making real progress on fiscal reform in the process.

Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He also is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.

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