Of course, this is the same John Boehner who last month said the sequester was "as much leverage as we're going to get" to accomplish Republican spending goals. And what might those goals be? Yep, cutting social insurance programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. And this is also the same John Boehner who said he got 98 percent of what he wanted when the sequester was signed into law.
But now that the sequester is almost reality, he understands how politically unpopular it will be, so he's trying to blame it all on the president, calling it "the president's sequester." But as you'll see below the fold, he's actually doing a pretty bad job of making his argument.
At the press conference, Boehner complained that Congress has been too willing to "kick the can down the road" when it comes to cutting spending. He expressed displeasure at the president because "the president is talking about moving the sequester out a couple of months more." But given that nobody says they like the sequester, Boehner failed to explain what would be so bad about postponing it, as the president has proposed.
I suspect Boehner knows that he's in a bad position here. This is how he described the options before Congress: "Democrats say we should replace the president's sequester with revenue increases or delay it. Republicans say we should replace it, with responsible reforms, that will put us on a path to balance the budget in ten years."
That's pretty much the best way of presenting the Republican position, but the problem is that when you see those options, you realize the best path forward is to delay the sequester. Perhaps if Democrats and Republicans could agree on how to replace it, there'd be a better scenario, but absent that agreement, delay is clearly the best option.
The fact that Boehner didn't endorse a delay leaves four possibilities: (1) he's bluffing, and will accept a delay, (2) he believes Democrats will agree to replace defense cuts with cuts to entitlements whether or not he's bluffing, (3) he's bluffing and will accept additional revenue, or (4) he's not bluffing and likes the sequester more than he admitted.
Here's my bet: Boehner is bluffing and will accept additional revenue. A reporter asked him whether he thought the House would approve legislation that would raise another $300-$400 billion in revenue as part of a hypothetical deal to replace the sequester, bringing the total amount of revenue raised in 2013 to $1 trillion if you include the tax cliff deal. Boehner's answer: "Who knows what would happen today?"
That's hardly a ringing endorsement of new revenue, but it's also far from a Shermanesque statement ruling it out. Moreover, when another reporter asked Boehner about negotiating with the Senate, he actually suggested that if the Senate passes legislation, there could be a House-Senate conference committee to negotiate the differences between the two pieces of legislation.
It's possible Boehner was just posturing to try to sound like he's willing to negotiate. But given the fact that he caved on the debt limit and caved on tax rates, I suspect he's ready to deal. And that means President Obama's Grand Bargain is probably still a realistic possibility. Whether or not that's a good thing is an entirely different question, however.