Leaders in both parties predicted Wednesday that the cuts, known as sequestration, will take effect at least briefly while policymakers try to restart talks over a far-reaching plan to lower the national debt.
“It’s going to happen,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, noting that Republicans in both chambers are determined to let the cuts take effect, saving $1.2 trillion over the next decade.
“I think we are committed to some form of sequestration spending cut,” Durbin said, adding that the White House is “talking about some options” for blunting the impact on government services and federal workers.
After the sequester comes the threat of a government shutdown on March 27. And after that, probably sometime this summer, the threat of default will once again loom unless lawmakers can reach a consensus on long-term tax and spending policies.
Senate Democratic leaders argued that House Republicans are likely to capitulate again on raising the debt limit and that Wednesday’s vote suggests they have lost the taste for confrontation that has driven the nation repeatedly to the brink of fiscal crisis over the past two years.
“This sets a new precedent that the debt limit will not be taken hostage going forward,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
But even as House Republicans voted to suspend enforcement of the debt ceiling through May 18, their budget chairman vowed to use the coming deadlines to force President Obama and Senate Democrats to deliver “a big down payment on the debt crisis.”
“Spending cuts are coming,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Wall Street Journal. “We are not going to lose the $1.2 trillion we’ve already got from the last debt-ceiling [fight]. We are going to have to negotiate on top of that for a new debt-ceiling increase. . . . We’re very serious about this.”
He and other House leaders rallied GOP support for Wednesday’s debt-limit vote by promising to deliver a budget plan that would wipe out deficits within the next decade — a daunting task. For the past two years, the House has passed budgets that propose to cut spending far more deeply than Obama and other Democrats are willing to accept, and even those austere frameworks would take nearly 30 years to achieve balance.
Meanwhile, Ryan ruled out the possibility of lowering deficits by raising taxes, as Democrats prefer. The “fiscal cliff” deal approved this month would generate about $650 billion in new tax revenue over the next decade. That, Ryan said, is enough.
“They got their revenue increases already,” he said.
Ryan’s hard-line position on the budget appeared to reassure House Republicans, who voted overwhelmingly for Wednesday’s debt-limit measure. It passed on a vote of 285 to 144, with 33 Republicans voting no.