Barrasso: Tax Increases Are Off The Table To Prevent Sequester

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It seems Republicans are ready to die on their sword of protecting tax cuts for the rich and are going to do their best to blame President Obama for their unwillingness to negotiate on anything in good faith. They've been wanting to take a pound of flesh from the working class by slashing our social safety nets and it looks like they might use this sequester to finally get their way: GOP Eager For The Sequester To Go Into Effect So They Can Blame Obama For Its Devastating Consequences:

With the sequester deadline looming just two weeks away, Republicans have adopted the public posture of cheerleading for the anticipated spending reductions to social programs, while preparing to blame President Obama for their devastating impact on middle class Americans and national security.

Republicans have yet to offer a proposal that would offset the cuts in the 113th Congress and have categorically rejected the Senate’s balanced approach of higher revenues and spending cuts. Instead they’re sitting on their hands until the March 1 deadline, informing Obama that they will not act to head off the automatic reductions. [...]

Pressed by Crowley on the consequences of the across-the-board cuts, Barrasso initially dismissed their impact before blaming Obama for any deleterious effects. “I believe the president has a lot of authority that he can decide how this works, and, yeah, he can make it very uncomfortable, which i think would be a mistake on the part of the president, but when you take a look at the total dollars there are better ways to do this, but the cuts are going to occur,” he said.

Here's more from them on the damage the cuts would do: How The Sequester’s Budget Cuts Will Devastate Already-Battered Programs:

Federal spending is scheduled to reach historic lows thanks to the Budget Control Act, which placed caps on spending as part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011. Non-defense spending is already 14 percent lower than it has been at any time in the last half-century, and it could go even lower if the so-called “sequester,” a series of automatic budget cuts that will begin to take effect at the beginning of March, is allowed to occur.

The drop in domestic spending has already devastated many programs on which Americans depend. But on March 1, those cuts will get even deeper when the first $85 billion of sequester cuts take effect.

That will have a substantial impact on food safety, education, law enforcement, and safety net programs, according to estimates from Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee. And if the sequester is left in place for the full year, it will cut $1.5 trillion and those effects will only get worse: Read on...

Here's a reminder from Greg Sargent on the right's decision to use the sequester as "leverage" against President Obama: We all agree that spending cuts hurt the economy. Right? Right.:

Thrush very well be right that people won’t take the right message from the contraction. But in a rational world, what should be glaringly obvious is that the belief that this gives the party “leverage” highlights how absurdly incoherent the GOP message about the economy has become. (Read Steve Benen for all the other problems here.)

The economic contraction was driven largely by a steep drop in defense spending. As Ezra Klein details, this shows that “government is hurting the recovery” by “spending and investing too little.” As Ezra notes, “government spending and investment have, at all levels, been contractionary since 2010.”

Yet Republicans are responding to the news of the economic contraction by suggesting it validates their view that we need to further cut spending to help the economy. Hence their claimed “leverage” in the coming battle over the sequestered cuts, half of which is to defense spending. Republicans are actively using the sequester to force Dems to agree to avert it by offsetting it entirely with other deep cuts to social programs, and no new revenues from the wealthy. In response to the contraction, John Boehner tweeted out this hashtag:

#spendingistheproblem

In other words, the contraction confirms that we need more spending cuts.

You could chalk this up as a philosophical difference between the two parties — Republicans think spending cuts help the economy; Democrats think spending cuts hurt the economy — except for one small problem: Republicans themselves previously said the sequestered spending cuts threatened severe damage to the economy, back before they had decided to use it as leverage to get other cuts they wanted.

Back in September, when Republicans were eager to avert the sequester’s defense cuts, Eric Cantor warned that the sequestered cuts would make unemployment “soar,” adding that this risked “setting back any progress the economy has made.” The RNC predicted that sequestered cuts would drive Virginia’s economy “into a recession.” On the stump, Paul Ryan repeatedly said the cuts threatened massive job loss.

Now that Republicans are trying to use the threat of the sequester to extract other spending cuts, they have backed off this rhetoric, since it would reveal their case to be untenable: If the sequestered spending cuts threaten dire harm to the economy, wouldn’t replacing them with other cuts do the same? At the same time, they are now claiming that the economic contraction validates their push for these new cuts.

But Republicans are unambiguously on the record previously saying that the sequestered cuts do threaten to damage the economy — which is to say, they have admitted spending cuts will imperil the recovery. Which is to say that they have confirmed what yesterday’s news of the economic contraction reminds us. And so even if it’s true that the public won’t necessarily perceive the contraction in these terms, those of us who are writing about this should note clearly that the contraction does, in fact, validate Obama’s claim that we should not offset the sequester only with deep and damaging spending cuts. Republicans themselves have essentially confirmed it.

Here's transcript of Crowley and Barrasso's exchange on CNN:

CROWLEY: I don't know if you heard Senator Schumer at the top of the show. He was talking about sequestration.

He expressed the belief either on the eve of or sometime in the first two or three weeks of sequestration, if it goes into effect, those big across-the-board budget cuts, that Republicans indeed will come to the middle and agree to essentially what the Democrats have proposed, which is some cuts in farm programs as well as closing the loopholes for oil and gas companies, as well as taxing more -- the so-called Buffett tax, that no millionaire should pay less than 30 percent.

He said that your current position, Republicans' current position is untenable, given what sequestration will do.

Do you think that Republicans will go ahead and agree to some kind of cuts, and perhaps an increase in revenue for those making $1 million or more?

BARRASSO: No. Let me be very clear, and I would say this to the president as I say it to you.

These spending cuts are going to go through on March 1st. The -- their taxes are off the table. I've read the Democrat proposal that even Chuck Schumer said is just a chess piece, so the American people need to know tax cuts are off the table, and the Republican Party is not in any way going to trade spending cuts for a tax increase.

CROWLEY: So you have heard all these dire warnings, so you think Republicans are willing to walk off this particular cliff and say, no, we are not going to raise taxes in order to stop these across-the- board cuts, which will dig deeply into the Defense budget, among other things?

BARRASSO: I think there are much better ways to do these budget cuts, and I welcome that sort of discussion with the president, but the cuts are going to occur.

We're talking about 2.5 percent of what we spend this year, and this is just the first year of 10 years of cuts, so you have to be realistic about this. Families all across the country, Candy, have had their budgets cut by larger than that as a result of the economic downturn.

CROWLEY: So you don't believe all these dire warnings that, you know, it's going to -- it's going to hollow out the military, that it's going to interfere with getting onto planes, it's going stop food inspection, you don't believe any of that?

BARRASSO: Well, I believe the president has a lot of authority that he can decide where this -- how this works, and, yes, he can make it very uncomfortable, which I think would be a mistake on the part of the president. But when you take a look at the total dollars, there are better ways to do this, but the cuts are going to occur.

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