As you can see from the picture above, the GOP has taken to calling the cuts mandated by the Sequester “Obamaquester”. But this slide from a John Boehner-delivered Power Point presentation appears to show that it was the Speaker who wanted it!
I happened to come across an old email that throws cold water on House Republicans’ attempts to call this “Obama’s Sequester.”
It’s a PowerPoint presentation that Boehner’s office developed with the Republican Policy Committee and sent out to the Capitol Hill GOP on July 31, 2011. Intended to explain the outline of the proposed debt deal, the presentation is titled: “Two Step Approach to Hold President Obama Accountable.”
It’s essentially an internal sales document from the old dealmaker Boehner to his unruly and often unreasonable Tea Party cohort. But it’s clear as day in the presentation that “sequestration” was considered a cudgel to guarantee a reduction in federal spending—the conservatives’ necessary condition for not having America default on its obligations.
The presentation lays out the deal in clear terms, describing the spending backstop as “automatic across-the-board cuts (‘sequestration’). Same mechanism used in 1997 Balanced Budget Agreement.”
The Joint Committee, ultimately misled by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) into enacting the sequester, is explained in detail under a page titled “Entitlement Reforms and Savings”:
And that’s pretty much exactly what’s scheduled to start happening on March 1. Democrats could just as easily spin this as “Boehner’s Sequester” or “Cantor’s Sequester” and offer indelible digital evidence to back up their claim.
The supercommittee failed in large part because the Republican representatives couldn’t agree on revenue increases from closing tax loopholes. After the presidential election, the two parties couldn’t reason together to avoid the next self-imposed hurdle, the fiscal cliff, and instead passed a last-second patchwork that dealt with the tax rates that were scheduled to rise but left the sequester unaddressed because there was no time to hammer out a grand bargain.
And so here we are again, days away from a new deadline, and a sensible grand bargain to deal with our long-term debt seems very far away.
Just yesterday, Avlon’s Daily Beast colleague, Michael Tomasky, laid out the timeline of the deal that brought us the sequester like this:
The idea of having these deep budget cuts called “sequestration” goes back to the summer of 2011 and the debt-ceiling negotiations. You’ll recall readily enough that it was first time in history that an opposition party had attempted to attach any conditions to increasing the debt limit. You’ll also recall that the Republicans made this intention quite clear from the beginning of 2011; indeed, from campaign time the year before. Remember Obama’s quotes from late 2010 in which he said he felt sure the Republicans would behave more reasonably once the responsibility to govern was partly theirs?
Instead, they almost crashed the economy. And they were also clearly the side pushing for drastic spending cuts. Let’s go back quickly over a partial 2011 timeline. In April, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said it was the president’s position that raising the debt limit “shouldn’t be held hostage to any other action.” On May 11, Austan Goolsbee, then Obama’s chief economic adviser, said that tying a debt-limit increase to spending cuts was “quite insane.”
On May 16, the United States went into technical default, but the Treasury Department was able to string things along a few more weeks. Tim Geithner made it clear that the real problem would hit August 1. A key moment, as Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress wrote in The Huffington Post, came on May 31. That’s when the GOP-run House voted on Obama’s request for a “clean” debt-limit increase. It failed, and all 236 Republicans voted no.
All this time, and right on up to August 1, Republicans were screaming for deep budget cuts, and the administration was saying no. But the Republicans had the leverage because it actually seemed plausible they were crazy enough to push the country into default. And so at that point, at least according to Bob Woodward in his new book, Jack Lew, then the budget director and now Obama’s nominee for Treasury secretary, originally came up with the notion of sequestered cuts. Or maybe it was Gene Sperling. The White House’s idea was based on language from the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction act. It was also the White House’s notion that if the “trigger” was hit, what would kick in would be not only automatic budget cuts but also automatic revenue increases (an idea Republicans refused to go along with).
So fine, the White House proposed it. It did so only after months of Republicans publicly demanding huge spending cuts and refusing to consider any revenues and acting as if they were prepared to send the nation into default over spending. In other words, this was the administration’s idea in much the way that it’s a parent’s “idea” to pay ransom to a person who has taken his child hostage. There was a gun to the White House’s head, which was the possibility of the country going into default.
And then, when it was all put into legislation, it was the Republicans who passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in the House, with 218 of them voting yes. So even if administration officials proposed it, it would have remained just a proposal if those 218 Republicans hadn’t supported it (no House Democrats backed it). Most Republicans agreed at the time that the sequestration trigger was a good thing—that it would force everyone to get together and agree to a path forward and a long-term budget deal.
On August 1, John Boehner appeared on 60 Minutes to discuss the deal. Of the outcome he said, “When you look at the final agreement we came to with the White House, I got 98% of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.”
After talking about all that, I spoke with some guests:
Robert, aka @Rousseau-ist, is a member of the DC Media Group – a group of citizen journalists who popped up to cover Occupy and now is a great source for real news that you won’t get from the corporate mainstream media. He was at Sunday’s Forward on Climate rally in DC and helped livestream the entire thing with We Act Radio.