The deal allowing the government to reopen today included a mandate that the House and Senate engage in a new round of budget negotiations, with the lawmakers involved facing the unenviable task of reconciling the different tax and spending plans passed by each respective chamber. One contentious issue right off the bat is whether or not to preserve the spending levels under the so-called "sequester," which were a byproduct of the 2011 debt ceiling debacle.
To review, when Republicans took the debt ceiling hostage two years ago, the deal crafted to avoid default – known as the Budget Control Act – mandated the creation of a "supercommittee" that was supposed to come up with a budget compromise. The sequester was meant to be the stick that would force a deal, as it included cuts that were supposedly so painful to each party that they would have no choice but to agree on something else.
Except that's not what happened. The negotiations fell apart where they always fall apart: with Republicans refusing to accede to one dime in new revenue. The sequester went into effect and is now cutting an indiscriminate path through the budget.
Democrats, then, have made some noise about undoing the sequester, for at least a short period of time, during this new round of budget negotiations. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made clear on the Senate floor yesterday that he is not interested in such an idea.
"I'm also confident that we'll be able to announce that we're protecting the government spending reductions that both parties agreed to under the Budget Control Act, and that the president signed into law. That's been a top priority for me and my Republican colleagues throughout this debate. And it's been worth the effort," McConnell said. "Some have suggested that we break that promise as part of the agreement. … But what the BCA showed is that Washington can cut spending. … And we're not going back on this agreement." Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, called sequestration, "one of the good things that has happened" and "an important thing that we have achieved." Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, even threatened another debt ceiling standoff in the new year should Democrats try to undo the sequester.
But when the sequester first went into effect, Republicans did everything they could to blame it on Obama. They even tried to call it the "Obamaquester." In fact, here's what McConnell had to say about the sequester back in February: "Take the Obama sequester as just one example. The president had a chance last night to offer a thoughtful alternative to his sequester, one that could reduce spending in a smarter way. That is what Republicans have been calling for all along."
So in just eight short months, those spending cuts went from "the Obama sequester" to a "top priority" for the GOP. How the times change.
During his floor speech, McConnell also excoriated Obamacare for "killing jobs." Not only is that false, but if McConnell wants to see a real job killer, he needs to look no further than his precious sequester spending levels. As I noted last week, the sequester has not only been gutting important programs, but is slowly strangling economic growth. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the spending levels under the sequester will cost up to 1.6 million jobs through fiscal year 2014.
Of course, the GOP to this point has been impervious to the mountain of evidence showing that cutting spending in a weak economy just makes for a weaker economy. So perhaps it's best that McConnell and co. are just owning up to the fact that the sequester is something they desire and admire. It's a love story for the ages: the sequester, once spurned, is now the one thing Republicans want to ensure will be staying around forever.