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GOP lawmakers see automatic cuts as leverage

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 30, 2013 at 6:24 pm •  Published: January 30, 2013
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On Wednesday, the government reported that the economy shrank by 0.1 percent in the last quarter of 2012 and said a slowdown in defense spending and uncertainty over the automatic spending cuts could have kicked in at the start of the year.

Last year, Republicans issued dire warnings of the impact the cuts would have. Defense hawks like Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., made campaign tours in political swing states like Virginia and Florida lambasting the cuts, warning that the reductions would hollow out the Pentagon and cost many thousands of jobs. They reminded voters that the sequester was an idea developed by Democrats during 2011 negotiations on increasing the government's borrowing cap.

"The White House is responsible for the 'sequester' that threatens our national security," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in September. "History has taught us we can't continue with policies that jeopardize our defenses or weaken our economy."

This year's GOP move to embrace the sequester was hatched at a recent strategy retreat for House Republicans in Williamsburg, Va. Much of the retreat was devoted to coming up with a way to solve a more urgent issue: finding a way to get the tea party-infused House to again increase the debt limit and prevent an economically devastating, first-ever default on U.S. obligations. The party agreed on a strategy to punt the debt dilemma until May or later and instead use the sequester as leverage in the budget debate.

A senior House GOP aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss party strategy, said some Republicans see the sequester as their best opportunity to achieve spending cuts. That strategy, however, is rife with potential to split open the Republican Party and pits the defense hawks against the tea party.

How people would actually react should the across-the-board cuts hit is anyone's guess. But it's not lost on anyone with institutional history that Republicans got creamed in a similar situation in 1995-96 when they sparked a partial government shutdown under the leadership of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the warring parties should try to figure it all out, but he set up a clash with Republicans over using new taxes to fix the problem.

Reid said the sequester cuts should be replaced "in short increments" with spending cuts and revenues like repealing oil and gas subsidies, which were discussed in earlier negotiations.

"There are many low-hanging pieces of fruit out there that Republicans have said they agreed on previously," Reid said. There's a lot of things we can do out there, and we're going to make an effort to make sure that there is — sequestration is — involves revenue."