Two months ago, House Speaker John Boehner made a bold proclamation that Republicans had “as much leverage as we’re going to get” on the debate over the sequester.Boehner’s statement, which he made in a Jan. 6 interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore, ran contrary to the conventional wisdom behind the sequester. The prevailing notion was that Republican defence hawks would pressure him into caving on a deal that included tax increases. And Congressional Republicans weren’t exactly popular coming out of the fiscal cliff debate.
But now that the budget cuts have kicked in, it seems Boehner knew exactly what he was doing. As a result of the Speaker’s unwillingness to give in on the sequester, Obama lost much of the leverage he enjoyed during the negotiations to avert the fiscal cliff, and House Republicans are in much better shape than they were after the year-end deal.
“Think of it this way,” Boehner told Moore back in January. “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 and the White House appear to have miscalculated the sequester, believing that Republicans would rather accept new tax increases rather than accept crippling defence cuts.
The miscalculations continued with the deal to avert the fiscal cliff, when Vice President Joe Biden helped broker a last-minute deal that made most of the Bush-era tax cuts permanent while delaying the sequester cuts for two months. Obama ended up only raising half of the revenue he was seeking, and Democrats no longer had a mechanism to force the GOP to the bargaining table.
Although the fiscal cliff agreement was widely seen as a victory for the President, one Senate Democratic aide conceded that the deal has been a point of worry among Hill Democrats.
There is still some risk for Boehner. The effects of the sequester haven’t yet been felt beyond the doom-and-gloom talk in Washington. If the budget cuts are economically damaging, House Republicans will bear the brunt of the blame, according to polls taken before the sequester. And even Boehner has admitted he has no idea what effect the cuts will have on the economy in the long-term.
So there’s still more to come. But for now, Boehner’s gamble is paying off.
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