Both sides of the political aisle are trading blame for a looming sequester of across-the-board spending cuts that neither side really wants anymore.House Speaker John Boehner is blasting the “#obamaquester” on Twitter — which, as detailed in Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics,” was the White House’s idea.
The White House’s idea of the sequester, however, came about because they saw it as a good alternative to what Republicans were proposing at the time — austerity at a much weaker point of the economic recovery.
In 2011, Boehner established the so-called “Boehner rule,” which proposed corresponding dollar-for-dollar cuts in spending to accompany any increase in the nation’s debt limit. The Congressional Budget Office warned at the time that any sharp cuts could destroy the economic recovery.
And about two weeks before the 2011 debt-ceiling “doomsday” that would have risked the U.S. defaulting on its obligations, the Republican-controlled House passed the Cut, Cap and Balance Act.
It promised a three-pronged approach to curbing federal spending that could have severely hampered what was still at the time feeble economic growth — reducing the budget deficit by half in fiscal year 2012, capping federal spending at an unfeasible 18 per cent of GDP, and proposing to balance the budget via constitutional amendment.
The White House, in turn, thought that a better enforcement mechanism toward fundamental deficit reduction in the form of tax reform and future, measured spending cuts would be the threat of a sequester.
From Woodward’s book:
“A trigger would lock in our commitment,” Sperling explained. “Even though we disagree on the composition of how to get to the cuts, it would lock us in. The form of the automatic sequester would punish both sides. We’d have to September to avert any sequester”— a legal obligation to make spending cuts.
“Then we could use a medium or big deal to force tax reform,” Obama said optimistically. “If this is a trigger for tax reform,” Boehner said, “this could be worth discussing. But as a budget tool, it’s too complicated. I’m very nervous about this.”
The Budget Control Act, which contained the sequester, eventually passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. 174 of 240 House Republicans supported it, and Senate Republicans voted for it by a 28-19 margin. The support from Democrats was lower in the House (a 95-95 split) but supported it in the Senate 45-6.
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