In order to understand the political battle over deficit reduction and automatic spending cuts looming on March 1, it is necessary to visit the voting history of the Budget Control Act of 2011, a bill crafted to reduce the deficit and avoid default.
That bill created a supercommittee on deficit control, with the provision that if the supercommittee did not come to an agreement, automatic spending cuts -- sequestration -- would be imposed on all discretionary spending, including the military. The expiration of various tax cuts would also mean tax increases for millions of Americans.
On Aug. 1, 2011, an overwhelming majority of Republicans (174-66) in the House voted for the bill. House Democrats split down the middle, 95-95. Republican leaders John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy voted yes. Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn voted yes. The bill passed the Senate the following day, with 45 Senate Democrats supporting the bill, joined by 28 Republicans and one Independent.
President Obama immediately signed the bill -- the product of bicameral, bipartisan leadership in cooperation with the White House -- into law.
So you can imagine the surprise of Republicans when, in the October 22 presidential debate last year with Mitt Romney, President Obama denied he had anything to do with the sequester. He even poked fun at Romney, suggesting he was woefully ignorant and behind the times in his assessment of U.S. military readiness.
“The sequester is not something that I proposed,” the president declared. “It’s something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen. The budget we are talking about is not reducing our military spending. It is maintaining it.”
It was a key moment in the final debate, which was generally scored in favor of the president. It could have gone the other way if Romney had known sequester would also create a spike in unemployment, up to 9.1 percent by the end of 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which released the report just a little more than 24 hours after Romney conceded the election.
In fact, the idea of draconian cuts to the Defense budget came from the White House. Bob Woodward, in his book “The Price of Politics,” traced the sequester idea as a negotiating strategy that moved from the executive office to the Democratic leader of the Senate to Republican leaders, culminating in mutually flawed assumptions that a bipartisan agreement on the supercommittee would be reached because Republicans didn’t want defense cuts and Democrats wanted to avoid cuts in social programs. The supercommittee could not agree, and the automatic spending cuts of sequestration are now on the way.
As a member of the 112th Congress, I voted against the Budget Control Act of 2011. Is there waste in government? Yes! Do we need to cut spending? Yes. We need to cut spending for wars, interventions and any foreign aid that sets the stage for interventions. We borrowed money from China to wage an unnecessary, wrongful war against Iraq. We need to get our $600 billion trade deficit turned around. We need to start taking care of things back home.
The White House promoted sequester because it is prepared to agree to cut spending on important domestic programs, even to the extent of falsely injecting Social Security into the debt debate. Is this what a "Liberal" administration looks like? The American Taxpayer Relief Act, 2013, passed on January 1 this year, recovered for taxpayers a substantial amount of money that would have been lost due to the expiration of tax cuts, reducing the adverse impact of substantial tax increases on the economy.
With automatic spending cuts looming, the president will continue to distance himself from the sequestration process, and Republicans will try to bring him back to where he started: As the Initiator. After all, it was his idea and he signed the bill.
Watch for the White House to shift to a “share the pain” approach to deficit reduction, but perhaps not in time to avoid sequester. The Democrats will attack Republicans for sequestration. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has gone into high gear in attack mode, last week saying that if Democrats were in charge, sequestration would not happen -- although he voted to begin the process, as did other Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.
Senate Democrats ask for more tax revenue, or they refuse to pass a budget. They have, in fact, refused to pass a budget for years, so this latest move may not inspire their Republican colleagues to action.
House Republican leaders who voted for the sequester process will not even bother to bring new revenue issues to the floor of the House, mindful of the fact that on New Year’s night, their conference voted 151-85 against tax increases for people in the highest brackets.
On sequester, everyone is in. And everyone is out. But if congressional Democrats and Republicans are grappling with each other as they go over the sequestration falls, they may learn they have precipitated one crisis too many for an American electorate worried about the economy.