The most telling part from Stephen Moore’s interview with John Boehner in The Wall Street Journal today is that the House Speaker views the coming spending cuts in the sequester — not the debt ceiling — as Republicans’ main point of leverage in coming budget talks with President Barack Obama.The Republicans’ stronger card, Mr. Boehner believes, will be the automatic spending sequester trigger that trims all discretionary programs—defence and domestic. It now appears that the president made a severe political miscalculation when he came up with the sequester idea in 2011.
As Mr. Boehner tells the story: Mr. Obama was sure Republicans would call for ending the sequester— the other “cliff” — because it included deep defence cuts. But Republicans never raised the issue. “It wasn’t until literally last week that the White House brought up replacing the sequester,” Mr. Boehner says. “They said, ‘We can’t have the sequester.’ They were always counting on us to bring this to the table.”
The sequester — part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 — trims the non-war defence budget to $491 billion in 2013, which is down about 9 per cent from 2012. defence programs would see cuts up to 10 per cent.
But where Boehner sees his leverage is in the other cuts of the sequester. In 2013 alone, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget projects that payments to Medicare providers will be reduced by 2 per cent. Cuts to non-defence spending, such as some elementary and secondary education programs, will be slashed either 8.2 per cent or 7.4 per cent.
Boehner told the WSJ that he has Republican support for letting the sequester go into effect, even from defence hawks. The cuts to entitlements, Boehner rationalizes, will bring Obama to the table because of pressure from the left.
“Think of it this way,” Boehner said. “We already have an agreement [capping] discretionary spending for 10 years. And we’re already in our second year of it. This whole discussion on the budget over the next several months is going to be about these entitlements.”
Obama’s “severe political miscalculation,” then, came when he assumed Republicans would blink on the defence cuts. At least publicly, Boehner is trying to create the impression that Democrats are going to be the party that blinks on the sequester’s cuts.
Boehner views the debt ceiling, meanwhile, as a lesser point of leverage. He suggested that because of his insistence on the so-called “Boehner rule” — every dollar of a debt ceiling increase must coincide with a dollar of spending cuts — there may be a series of month-by-month debt ceiling raises.
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