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Despite early protestations against a sequester many members voted for, congressional Republicans are preparing to go past a March 1 deadline that would trigger across-the-board spending cuts without agreeing to alternative legislation.
At the annual Senate GOP retreat earlier this week, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., delivered a message to the conference that standing strong on the scheduled spending cuts would be preferable to a deal to replace it that included any revenue. Boehner said he believed Republicans had shifted the power dynamic from 2012’s fiscal cliff fight and that Democrats would be left holding the bag if Congress couldn’t agree to a deal to avert the painful cuts.
“No Budget, No Pay was partly an effort to shift the battlefield from the debt limit to the president’s sequester. Now that we’ve successfully changed the battlefield, it’s time to fight the battle. And we need to fight it together,” Boehner told senators in the closed-door meeting, according to prepared text provided to CQ Roll Call. “The goal to me is pretty straightforward: the president’s sequester should be replaced with better spending cuts that help put us on a path to a balanced budget within a decade.”
According to a Republican source, McConnell spoke up during Boehner’s remarks on the sequester, urging colleagues to draw a line in the sand on the issue. The Kentucky Republican echoed the sentiment he has been repeating almost daily on the Senate floor, that the bipartisan tax deal approved at the beginning of the year that raised $650 billion in revenue was sufficient and any future legislation should be cuts-only.
With billions in spending cuts already written in law from 2011’s Budget Control Act, some see Republicans as having little incentive to come to the table in a recess-shortened February, if at all. From a sheer logistics perspective, both the Senate and the House are in recess the week of Feb. 18.
And, though GOP aides insist it has not been openly discussed, there could be political advantage if Republicans let Congress pass the delayed sequester deadline. Some of the states that get the most federal discretionary money, defense or domestic, also are home to some of the 2014 cycle’s vulnerable Democrats, Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Warner of Virginia and Mark Udall of Colorado. Hagan, however, starts out in a weaker position than Udall or Warner.