POLITICS
01/08/2013 10:47 am ET

John Boehner: I Have Republican Support On Defense Sequester 'In My Back Pocket'

While a Sunday Wall Street Journal interview with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) mostly got attention for a deadpan remark that he needs the job "like I need a hole in the head," lesser noticed was the speaker's statement that he has strong Republican support for the defense sequester, a striking comment given loud Republican opposition. Boehner went further and said that delaying the sequester was the White House's idea.

"It wasn't until literally last week that the White House brought up replacing the sequester," Boehner told Stephen Moore, a member of the Journal's editorial board. "They said, 'We can't have the sequester.' They were always counting on us to bring this to the table."

Moore writes:

Mr. Boehner says he has significant Republican support, including GOP defense hawks, on his side for letting the sequester do its work. "I got that in my back pocket," the speaker says. He is counting on the president's liberal base putting pressure on him when cherished domestic programs face the sequester's sharp knife. Republican willingness to support the sequester, Mr. Boehner says, is "as much leverage as we're going to get."

As Jonathan Chait notes, Boehner's words could be nothing but a bluff. But, if his claim proves true, it would represent a massive change in Republican opinion towards the sequester.

A Boehner spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The sequester mandated $500 billion in across-the-board cuts to the Pentagon over 10 years as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, along with similar across-the-board discretionary cuts, unless a so-called super committee made different cuts elsewhere. The legislation passed with 174 House Republicans in support. The super committee did not succeed. Therefore, defense cuts were set to go into effect on Jan. 1, but the "fiscal cliff" deal delayed the cuts for two months.

Two hundred and eighteen House Republicans are on the record for voting to replace the defense sequester with another set of domestic cuts. The plan sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) received no Democratic support, and the Democratic-controlled Senate did not take up the bill.

The proposed defense cuts drew ire of Republicans and some Democrats, even among those who voted for the deal. Then vice-presidential nominee Ryan railed against the sequester throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, despite the fact that he voted for it.

The fate of the defense sequester is uncertain after its temporary delay, and may be a point of contention in upcoming negotiations over the raising of the debt ceiling.

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