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Does Boehner Even Have the Votes to Replace the Sequester?

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Boehner is waiting on the Senate to take up a sequester replacement bill because of the political realities of a deeply divided caucus in the House.

The Senate does plan to vote this week on both Democratic and Republican proposals to replace the sequester.

“If the president is going to grandstand on military bases and with first responders ... House Republicans are going to counter that narrative with our own narrative: We’ve been trying to address this issue,” the leadership aide said.

The GOP’s Senate-first strategy, not just on the sequester but also on guns and other pieces of Obama’s agenda, has obvious benefits that Republicans have touted in recent weeks.

Primarily, the strategy could benefit them politically in 2014, when vulnerable Democratic senators might have to answer for votes they took on hot-button issues.

In that vein, the National Republican Senatorial Committee launched an online petition urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to “take the Obama challenge.” The petition mockingly criticizes Reid and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., for continuing to “stonewall” Obama’s “liberal agenda.”

The strategy also aims to make Reid look ineffectual if he cannot pass the legislation.

But there are risks to the strategy, as well. Senate Republicans, with their own political interests, may vote for bills that aren’t palatable to House Republicans.

Two episodes from the last Congress — over payroll tax rates and the fiscal cliff — show the scenario is not so far-fetched. Both times, Senate Republicans largely backed bills that caused an uproar among House Republicans, forcing Boehner to do a delicate dance.

With even a handful of Senate Republicans on board, Democrats are instantly able to claim the mantle of bipartisanship, greatly increasing the pressure on the Republican- controlled House.

House conservatives are keeping a close eye on their Senate colleagues, with one House aide saying there is concern the sequester fight could turn into “fiscal cliff, part deux” if the Senate GOP sells out the House.

But the same source trusted Boehner not to flinch even if that were to take place.

GOP leadership aides, meanwhile, expressed their confidence in the coordination between House and Senate Republicans.

Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky talk at least once a week. Their chiefs of staff meet frequently, and their communications teams meet every Friday.

One House GOP leadership aide said he had zero concern that Senate Republicans would agree to replace the sequester with even one dollar of tax increases.

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