John Boehner spoke to reporters today, and the main news coming out of his remarks is that he called on Senate Democrats to take the lead in passing Obama’s agenda. But buried in The Hill’s account of his remarks is something more interesting — something that really makes it clear that the GOP approach to the sequester is so deeply unserious that no deal looks even remotely possible.
Boehner told reporters that the Senate would have to go first in coming up with a plan to avert the sequester. Then he added:
“I’ll tell you the same thing I told my Republican colleagues at our retreat,” Boehner said. “The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget in the next 10 years.”
So, Boehner says House Republicans are not only willing to let the sequester hit, but that the only acceptable replacement for it will be a plan that wipes away the deficit in 10 years — all without revenues.
Let’s pause to consider what this means. Getting rid of the deficit in 10 years with no new revenues would require extraordinarily deep cuts to the federal government. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently ran the numbers and concluded it would require across the board cuts totaling anywhere from one-sixth to one-third of the government, depending on whether defense and/or entitlements are included. Boehner is saying that it’s either this or the sequester remains in effect.
What’s more, consider the timing here. There’s simply no chance that House Republicans will produce such a budget by March 1st, which is the deadline for the sequester. If Boehner means any of this, he’s confirming that we’re getting the sequester, and it will remain in effect until it is replaced by a plan that is simply never, ever going to happen. Wiping out the deficit in 10 years with no new revenues would be at least as bad as the Ryan plan — probably worse — yet even that plan was loaded up with unspecified cuts and other big question marks. Republicans are never going to propose specific cuts that balance the budget in 10 years with no new revenues — ever. Boehner has, in effect, just taken ownership of the sequester.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats unveiled their own replacement plan for the sequester today. As expected, it contains roughly a 50-50 split of cuts and new revenues via the closing of various loopholes enjoyed by the rich and corporations.
So here are the politics of this in a nutshell. Democrats want the sequester to be averted through a mix of roughly equivalent concessions by both sides. But Republicans are so eager to avoid raising even a penny of new revenues from the rich and corporations that they would sooner present this as a choice between the sequester — which they themselves say will gut defense and tank the economy — and downsizing the government by anywhere from one sixth to one third. The argument here is supposed to be that Senate Dems will have to agree to something that from their point of view is significantly worse than the sequester — balancing the budget in 10 years with no new revenues — or we’re stuck with the sequester.
I don’t know what it will take to get folks to acknowledge just how profound the imbalance between the two parties’ handling of the sequester has become. If this doesn’t demonstrate it clearly enough, than nothing will.