After meeting with congressional leaders from both parties about sequestration spending cuts that take effect Friday, President Obama mapped out future negotiations with Republicans, which he hopes will yield an alternative deficit reduction package that includes higher taxes and cuts to Medicare.
In a key revelation, though, he identified a way for Republicans to prevent the sequestration fight from precipitating a government shutdown.
Crucially, Obama said he’s prepared to sign legislation at the end of March to fund the government if Republicans adhere to the spending levels they agreed to during the debt limit fight in 2011.
“It’s the right thing to do to make sure we don’t have a government shutdown,” Obama said. “If the bill that arrives on my desk is reflective of the commitments that we previously made, then obviously I would sign it.”
His acknowledgment is important for reasons explored in this article. If House Republicans can’t pass a government funding bill that sets overall spending at levels agreed to in the Budget Control Act — funding that would automatically be reduced because of sequestration — then the government will shutdown and the pressure Republicans feel to cut a deal that both averts sequestration and keeps the government running will intensify.
“We agreed to a certain amount of money that was going to be spent each year, and certain funding levels for our military, our education system, and so forth,” Obama said. “If we stick to that deal, I will be supportive. … The sequester are additional cuts on top of that, and by law, until Congress takes the sequester away we have to abide by those additional cuts, but there’s no reason why we should have another crisis by shutting the government down in addition to these arbitrary spending cuts.”
Thus, if Republicans try to rejigger the sequestration cuts such that they make the lower overall spending levels permanent, but rescind its indiscriminate cutting mechanism and thus remove the pressure on Congress to pass a balanced alternative, they’ll set off a government shutdown fight.
But if Republicans can pass a government funding bill that adheres to spending levels agreed to and set in 2011, then the government will stay open and the fight over sequestration will continue indefinitely.
However the fight over ongoing funding of the government shakes out, Obama said he hopes public pressure convinces Republicans to relent on revenues so that he and Congress can replace sequestration with an alternative deficit reduction plan.
Sequestration is happening, he said, “because of a choice Republicans in Congress have made. They’ve allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single, wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit. As recently as yesterday, they decided to protect special-interest tax breaks for the well-off and well connected — and they think that that’s apparently more important than protecting the military and middle class families from the pain of these cuts.”
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.