February 25, 2013

House Republicans held a quick session with the press this afternoon to mainly make one point: They have no responsibility for sequestration. Speaker Boehner:

“Republicans have acted twice…to replace with the sequester with what we would argue are smarter cuts. Listen, the president says we have to have another tax increase in order to avoid the sequester. Well, Mr. President, you got your tax increase.

“The House has acted twice. We shouldn’t have to act a third time before the Senate begins to do their work.”

This standoff isn’t going to be resolved by rhetoric. But it’s worth noting the extent to which Republican spin simply ignores that there was an election in November.

First of all, whether Boehner and the Republicans like it or not, Barack Obama was in fact re-elected on a platform of “balanced” deficit reduction — that is, new revenue and new spending cuts. Republicans have of course every right to oppose that, but it’s a little strange hearing them talk as if that campaign and election never happened.

But more to the point: claiming to have “acted twice” is nonsense. The expired 112th House may have passed things, but that’s entirely irrelevant now. The current 113th House, with a smaller Republican majority, has passed absolutely nothing to replace sequestration. And as Roll Call points out, the two measures Boehner refers to won by narrow margins last year; it’s quite likely that Republicans don’t have the votes to pass them now.

Republican rhetoric blaming the Senate for doing nothing also seems oddly stuck in 2012, given that Senate Democrats are planning to bring up their own plan this week. to avert the sequester. This plan will presumably be blocked by a Republican filibuster. But it’s still a plan.

Now, there are plenty of reasons for Republicans to keep a sequester replacement vote off the House floor. After all, the coalition that will support any replacement that can actually become law will certainly rely on a bipartisan grouping similar to the votes that passed the fiscal cliff deal. That would be a tough vote for many Republicans (remember, the cuts that would replace the sequester would be very unpopular).

But with the sequestration clock ticking, Republicans have to have something to say.  At this point, however, bashing Barack Obama is the one thing they can all agree on. It would be nice, however, if they could at least update their rhetoric to account for the elections — for president, Senate, and House — that really did happen last year.

Reaching a deal to avert the sequester was always going to be difficult, but if Republicans don’t acknowledge that things have changed since last year, it’s going to be even harder. After all, Republicans really do have fewer seats in the House — leaving them weaker than before. Democrats really do have a stronger majority in the Senate — making it easier for the mainstream Democratic position to pass in that body. And Barack Obama really was reelected — meaning have to worry about reelection anymore.

Add that all up and we should expect a negotiated outcome to tilt a fair ways towards the Dem position compared to before the election. But if Republicans are proceeding from the assumption that none of this ever happened — and are going to act as if they can get what they want just as easily as in 2011 — then compromise will only be more elusive.