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U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) (L) looks on as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media on the
Republicans might have more luck seeking leverage if they knew what it meant.
Politico's David Rogers gets to the bottom of what the GOP's newfound enthusiasm for sequestration is really all about:
Fresh from their 2010 election victory, House Republicans wasted no time demanding $65 billion in cuts from discretionary spending, setting off an appropriations fight that only ended in April 2011 after narrowly avoiding a wartime government shutdown.

Two years later, the GOP is back, endorsing a second, almost identical $69 billion appropriations cut — not because the party really believes in the reductions but because it’s looking for leverage to force President Barack Obama to accept alternative savings from benefit programs like Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps.

Unlike 2010, that $69 billion budget cut doesn't represent a new proposal, however. Instead, it would be the first wave of the sequestration cuts that both parties voted for during the 2011 debt limit fiasco. Rogers does the math, demonstrating just how severe the austerity measures would be:
Discretionary spending for 2013 is now set at $1.043 trillion but would drop below $980 billion and quite possibly to $974 billion under automatic spending cuts set to take effect March 1. That takes the government solidly into political territory previously defined by only the conservative Republican Study Committee, which had championed a budget plan last year to bring appropriations down to $931 billion and even lower in 2014.

Just seven months will be left in the 2013 fiscal year to absorb this cut, meaning the impact will be severe for many agencies. Compounding the havoc is the fact that large departments like defense must manage these cuts while living under an already rigid continuing resolution set to expire March 27.

Rogers quotes House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon saying that he's resigned himself to the view that the sequester spending cuts are going to happen, but keep in mind that this is the same Buck McKeon who last year said he was so deeply opposed to those spending cuts that he regretted his 2011 vote for the debt limit deal that created the cuts in the first place. It's not just McKeon: other Republicans on his committee are aghast at the coming cuts. During the presidential campaign last year, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan regularly attacked President Obama for signing them into law, even though Ryan had voted for them. So it's clear Republicans do not like the spending cuts as they currently exist and do not want them to take place.

Continue below the fold for more on how Republicans are pushing Democrats to support the one thing that they like even less than the sequester's spending cuts.

The problem that Republicans have is that as much as they loathe these spending cuts, they also represent their biggest legislative victory. Remember, these cuts were the price they insisted on in exchange for lifting the debt limit in 2011. So on the one hand, they don't want to see the cuts take place, but on the other hand, they don't want to get completely get rid of the cuts either. And what we're left with is a situation where Republicans are threatening to accept the cuts that they don't want unless they get a different set of cuts—cuts to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and food stamps—in exchange.

But while I understand that position, it's hard to see how they think that gives them leverage. It's absolutely true that Democrats oppose the spending cuts in the sequester every bit as much as Republicans oppose them. But the GOP's public position is that they want the one thing that Democrats think would be even worse than letting the sequestration move forward and that is gutting the safety net in order to bail out military contractors.

The other day, an aide to the Republican head of the House's tax committee said his party was open to new revenue through tax reform. If that's true, it would pave the way for a deal because President Obama has long been on record in support of replacing at least some of the sequester's spending cuts with a mix of tax increases and "modest" cuts to non-discretionary programs like Social Security and Medicare. (This is basically the "grand bargain" that he has sought, for better or for worse, throughout his presidency.) Maybe that's where Republicans are ultimately interested in going, but whatever their ultimate goal, the fact they think endorsing cuts to food stamps, Medicare, and Social Security gives them leverage to increase spending on defense programs that we don't need shows they have a long way to go before becoming sane.

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