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Sequester no longer scares Republicans

Published: Friday, Feb. 22 2013 7:09 p.m. MST

WASHINGTON — The assumptions behind the budget deal of 2011 have collapsed, as Republicans now seem willing to accept dramatic cuts to the defense budget rather than strike a compromise to avoid the cuts, seeing it as the only way to rein in federal spending.

The game of chicken was supposed to favor Democrats, because pro-defense Republicans were supposed to fear huge cuts to the defense budget. Defense programs are scheduled to take 50 percent of the cuts, even though they comprise just 19 percent of the budget.

And yet, Republican leaders seem increasingly at ease with the sequester.

House Speaker John Boehner made this clear in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

"As Mr. Boehner tells the story," The Journal's Stephen Moore reported on the interview, "Mr. Obama was sure Republicans would call for ending the sequester — the other 'cliff' — because it included deep defense cuts. But Republicans never raised the issue. 'It wasn't until literally last week that the White House brought up replacing the sequester,' Mr. Boehner says. 'They said, 'We can't have the sequester.' They were always counting on us to bring this to the table.'"

Even the defense cuts are not a show stopper for the GOP now.

The Obama administration, which thought it had the upper hand, is now pressuring to get a deal, even sending out Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to threaten cuts to airport security, Roll Call reported.

“I would describe my presence here with one word: Republican,” said LaHood, a Republican, speaking at the White House on Friday. “They’re hoping that maybe I can influence some of the people in my own party.”

One reason Republicans have grown less concerned about the cuts is that they are less dramatic than advertised.

Under the heading "The Unscary Sequester," the Wall Street Journal editors argued, "As always in Washington when there is talk of cutting spending, most of the hysteria is baseless. The nearby table from the House Budget Committee shows that programs are hardly starved for money. In Mr. Obama's first two years, while private businesses and households were spending less and deleveraging, federal domestic discretionary spending soared by 84 percent with some agencies doubling and tripling their budgets."

From 2008 to 2013, WSJ notes, discretionary federal spending "climbed to $1.062 trillion from $933 billion — an increase of 13.9 percent. Domestic programs grew by 16.6 percent, much faster than the 11.6 percent for national security."

In other words, spending has grown so fast since 2008 that even the dramatic cuts in the sequester would not return to the 2008 spending baseline.

At Forbes, Paul Roderick Gregory argues that spending actually increases, even under the sequester. Unpacking a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, Gregory writes, "The sequester 'cuts' are subtracted after increasing appropriations subject to the sequester at the rate of inflation and adding back in more than a trillion dollars (over 10 years) of spending exempted from the sequester."

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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