House Speaker John A. Boehner on Tuesday raised the rhetorical heat on his argument that responsibility for averting the broad automatic budget cuts set to take effect Friday now rests with the Democratic Senate, calling on the body to "get off their ass" and take action.
Boehner (R-Ohio) noted that the House twice last year passed GOP measures to replace the $85 billion sequester -- bills that would have shifted defense cuts to domestic programs. The measures were dismissed by Democrats as a shredding of the social safety net. Boehner said it's now up to Obama and the Senate to move.
"We have moved a bill in the House twice," Boehner told reporters following a closed-door meeting with House Republicans. "We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something."
While the House voted on sequester replacement measures last year, those bills expired this year with the start of the new Congress. Boehner has made clear he has no intention of putting forward a new measure now, intending to highlight the failure of the Senate to pass a bill. The stand also, however, puts a spotlight on the likely difficulties Boehner would have passing a new measure with his own members.
In December, the Republican sequester measure barely passed with 215 votes, amid Democratic opposition and the defection of a handful of Republicans who want to cut even more deeply. Asked about that dynamic by reporters Tuesday, Boehner said, "It's time for the Senate to act. It's not about the House."
Senate aides have said their chamber will vote on competing measures to replace the sequester -- advanced by Democrats and Republicans -- later this week. Neither proposal is expected to garner the 60 votes necessary to advance.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) acknowledged that the pending cuts would not be felt right away. “Not everyone’s going to see these cuts on Saturday, but they’re going to kick in,” Reid said Tuesday morning, warning that the Pentagon has already issued furlough notices to civilian employees and delayed contracts with private builders. “They’re going to be felt with defense more quickly.”
“The consequence of the so-called sequester cuts are real,” Reid warned.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) countered that “the president’s a master at creating the impression of chaos.”
McConnell, who negotiated the August 2011 deal that created the sequester, laid out his version of events in discussions with Vice President Biden, recounting a long phone call in which Biden laid out the automatic cuts plan in “exquisite -- exquisite -- detail.”
The GOP leader said that while it is possible that White House officials always wanted to replace the sequester with tax increases, it was not part of the law that was approved. Having negotiated a separate tax pact with Biden on New Year’s Eve, leading to the largest tax hike in a generation, McConnell said there is no chance Republicans will yield to another tax hike.
“One thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase [to replace] spending cuts we already agreed to,” he said.