House Republicans: Keep the sequester in place

A smart move, and one that House Republican leadership should adopt from its members:

GOP leaders on Thursday heard from rank-and-file members in a closed-door session, with many urging sequester cuts or a government shutdown to take effect in hopes of forcing the White House into accepting spending cuts.

Those options are “very much on the table,” veteran Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told reporters on Thursday, from Virginia, where House GOP lawmakers are meeting for their annual retreat.

According to several sources, during the members-only brainstorming session, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) delivered “concise” remarks before opening the microphones to member feedback.

Despite recent internal House GOP squabbles over the handling of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations and a handful of defections against Boehner in the vote for Speaker, GOP lawmakers are looking to present a unified front ahead of crucial budget battles.

There are three potential inflection points in the next two months on spending.  The first is the debt ceiling, which is poor ground for the GOP, as the spending Congress has already authorized requires Treasury to borrow funds to comply.  Denying a raise in the ceiling to at least the amount necessary for authorized spending amounts to a bad-faith effort to reopen the previous agreement, and it will be perceived that way especially as the media hyperventilates about default.

That leaves the sequester in late February and the expiration of the continuing resolution on March 27th, the government-shutdown option.  Republicans stand on the best ground on that point for demanding real spending cuts in the final half of the FY2013 budget and the new FY2014 budget.  However, if Republicans attempt to evade the sequester — which splits $1.2 trillion in cuts over ten years evenly between defense and domestic spending — they will undermine their case for a government-shutdown threat in March.  Those cuts are painful on both sides, butany significant cuts are going to be painful; if they weren’t, they would have already taken place.

This is why the Republicans will have better ground after the tax and debt-ceiling deadlines pass by.  Inaction in both of those cases favored Democrats (big tax hikes and a default scenario they could blame on Republican intransigence).  In contrast, inaction on the last two “cliffs” of the sequester favor the GOP — real spending cuts and a standoff on the real issue of spending. And in fact, House Republicans can pass a final FY2013 budget using normal order well before March 27th and simply state that they will not negotiate with the Senate except through a conference committee, demanding a normal-order budget from Harry Reid.  If he refuses, then it’s Democratic inaction that will produce the government shutdown.

Republicans are outnumbered in Washington power.  They have to look for the best ground on which to fight. This is a big step in the right direction.