- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2013

In 2011, he called the budget sequester “ugly” and said he wanted to do everything possible to avoid it, then earlier this year, he said the automatic spending cuts would remain in place until lawmakers put themselves on the path to a balanced budget over 10 years.

But last week House Speaker John A. Boehner led the charge to undo some of the sequester cuts, replacing them with more spending now, offset by promised fees and cuts in the future.

Mr. Boehner is one of a number of members of Congress who have changed their stance on the automatic cuts since the 2011 debt deal that set the sequesters in place.

Those lawmakers banded together last week in the House to pass a new budget that cancels $63 billion in sequester cuts in 2014 and 2015. A final showdown vote could come in the Senate on Tuesday.

In exchange for more spending now, the deal imposes new fees and shifts cuts to the future — beyond the initial 10-year window of the 2011 budget deal, according to an analysis of the budget deal by the Republican staff on the Senate Budget Committee. That means the country will spend more during the original 10-year time period defined by the act, breaking the caps previously set by the legislation.

Republican supporters argue the deal is the best negotiators could get since it reduces the deficit, doesn’t raise tax rates, leaves some of the sequester cuts in place and boosts defense spending.

“The Democrats came to this saying, get rid of the entire sequester, and we now got them to agree to 70 percent of it now [in 2014] and 92 percent of it exists over the term of the deal,” Rep. Paul Ryan, the House GOP’s chief negotiator, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Pressure groups, though, said the Republicans would have been better off leaving the sequester intact, which would have capped discretionary spending at $967 billion in 2014 — $45 billion less than the new budget calls for.

“It’s certainly not our interpretation of how they were going to use the sequester, what their policy aspirations were heading into this year,” said Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action for America. “If this is the best we could’ve gotten, which they’ve said multiple times, it would’ve been better to keep the sequester and wait until the president and Democrats came back to the table wanting to offer more.”

The across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester were never intended to take effect. They were included in the 2011 Budget Control Act as an incentive for lawmakers to get a deal done and prevent the cuts from happening.

Early on, both parties said they wanted to eliminate the across-the-board cuts, which hit both defense and domestic spending — though they spare Social Security and other entitlement benefits. Democrats and Republicans argued that indiscriminate cuts were a poor way to fund the government.

But as the deadline for the cuts approached, Republicans began to embrace them, saying they marked the first major spending reductions in years.

“As I’ve made clear many times, sequestration will remain in effect until cuts and reforms are put in place that put us on a path to balance the budget over the next 10 years,” Mr. Boehner said in March.

Mr. Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, said this week that the budget deal heads in the direction Mr. Boehner had called for back then.

“Reducing the deficit further helps put us on the path to balance the budget,” Mr. Steel said, noting that the speaker has always been in support of a smarter way to cut spending than relying on the sequester.

Many Senate Republicans appear ready to disagree, vowing to try to block the deal on the chamber floor Tuesday. Among them are Mr. Boehner’s counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.

But Democrats said they’ll win enough support to push the budget through, counting on backing from lawmakers like Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

“This agreement isn’t everything I’d hoped it would be, and it isn’t what I would have written. But sometimes the answer has to be yes,” Mr. Hatch said Monday. “Ultimately, this agreement upholds the principles conservatives stand for and, with Democrats controlling the White House and the Senate, it is the best we could hope for.”

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