Buried in this Politico story about the House GOP’s sequester strategy is a key admission.
Between now and the start of March, GOP leadership doesn’t have plans to pass another sequester replacement bill. Some in House leadership are concerned conservatives will demand those cuts on top of the sequester, and moderates are wary of more votes over slashing government programs.
This is what Republicans — most recently House Majority Leader Eric Cantor — are obscuring when they claim, in Cantor’s words, that “[t]he House has put forward an alternative plan.”
“The House has acted to prevent the devastating consequences of President Obama’s sequester,” Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, told TPM Monday. “We passed a bill more than six months ago, we passed a bill six weeks ago. The President and Senate Democrats now have the responsibility to act.”
But that plan expired when the 112th Congress came to a close, and there’s reason to suspect House Republicans couldn’t pass it or something similar again with their slightly diminished majority.
Republicans say it’s less a vote count issue than a strategic calculation.
“Since the House acted recently, we need to do everything possible to keep the focus on the Senate and the President,” said one senior House GOP aide.
But anyone who has studied House Republicans for the past two years knows that they tend to come to these fights prepared. Specifically, when a major legislative deadline looms, they pass conservative legislation in the House to either force Senate Democrats to act, or pass them the blame for the consequences when they don’t.
That strategy blew up in their faces during the fight over the fiscal cliff late last year, and if it happened again now, it would unintentionally underscore the fact that they need Democratic votes to replace the sequester. And Democrats suspect that’s what’s really going on here.
“If Republicans could pass a sequester plan, they would,” Adam Jentleson, communications director for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told TPM. “This is a tacit admission of what we have said all along, which is that the only plan that can pass both houses is a balanced approach that combines smart spending cuts with revenue measures that ask the wealthiest Americans to contribute.”
Conservative operative and commentator Bill Kristol recognizes this as a vulnerability.
“The Republican House, to its credit, did pass legislation in 2012 that would have fixed the sequester in a responsible way,” he writes. “The current Republican House should do so again, this month, before the sequester goes into effect.”
Recent history suggests they would if they could, but that they probably can’t.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.