When the Obama administration and congressional Republican leadership crafted the policy of sequestration in the summer of 2011, the idea was relatively simple: Onerous budget cuts that affected the top priorities of each political party would never take place because it was in the interest of both parties to avert them.
A so-called super committee tasked with coming up with a large deficit and debt reduction proposal was supposed to dispatch with sequestration quickly. They failed. The House GOP conference passed its own bill, but it was too one-sided to pass. The end of 2012, the deadline at which sequestration would go into effect, was supposed to be another galvanizing event. But that too failed to spark action, save a short-term delay to continue talks. And eventually, this spring, sequestration was implemented.
Now, in retrospect, even the authors of sequestration concede that they oversold the willingness and ability of lawmakers to come together on a replacement. And in an interview with The New Republic, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) placed it among the biggest legislative regrets of his career.
TNR: Were you surprised that the GOP allowed sequestration?
JM: I think the way it was sold, that the Sword of Damocles would never fall, was a contradiction. You should never point a gun unless you were going to pull the trigger. The leadership said this would never happen. It is the worst vote I have cast in many years.
McCain, who voted for the Budget Control Act that set sequestration in motion, is part of a block of hawkish Republican senators who are most likely to support a sequestration replacement package. His friend and colleague Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has said he'd be open to an additional $600 billion in revenues if it meant canceling out the Defense Department budget cuts. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has floated exchanging entitlement reform for sequestration relief.
But House Republicans are reading off of a different script. And so far, the appropriations bills being crafted by lawmakers in that chamber would actually reduce spending to levels lower than those set by sequestration.
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