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GOP changes its mind on debt 'trigger'

Remember the "triggers" in the debt-ceiling agreement?
GOP changes its mind on debt 'trigger'
GOP changes its mind on debt 'trigger'

Remember the "triggers" in the debt-ceiling agreement? At this point, congressional Republicans would like to forget them, at least the parts they came up with.

Let's take a moment to review. GOP lawmakers, in a move without precedent in American history, held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage. Democrats, fearful that the GOP wasn't bluffing, were willing to cut an unpleasant deal: $900 billion in debt reduction, on top of another $1.2 trillion agreement to be worked out by a so-called super-committee.

At the time, Dems weren't completely willing to roll over -- they wanted to create an incentive for Republicans to work in good faith on the $1.2 trillion in savings. Democrats proposed the threat of automatic tax increases to push GOP officials to be responsible, but Republicans refused and offered an alternative: if the committee failed, the GOP would accept $600 billion in defense cuts and Dems would accept $600 billion in non-defense domestic cuts.

Remember, the point was to create an incentive that the parties would be desperate to avoid. Pentagon cuts were Republicans' contribution to the process. The cuts were their idea.

Six months later, the GOP has decided it doesn't like its idea anymore.

Republican leaders in Congress have all but reneged on a key agreement they reached with the White House last summer rather than reconsider their unwavering stance against new tax revenue. [...]"I've got concerns about the sequester," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Thursday. "I've made that pretty clear. And replacing the sequester certainly has value. The defense portion of the sequester, in my view, would clearly hollow our military. The Secretary of Defense has said that, members of Congress have said it. But the question I would pose is, where's the White House? Where's the leadership that should be there to ensure that this sequester does not go into effect.""Sequester" is budget-speak for across-the-board cuts. But the cuts he's talking about were part of a deal he recently claimed he'd honor.

Republicans still want the debt reduction; they just don't want to live up to their end of the bargain. As recently as November, the House Speaker was asked about the agreement he helped strike and he told reporters he would "feel bound" to honor it. That no longer appears to be the case.

What's more, Senate Republicans are getting specific about their preferred alternative.

Several Republican senators said Thursday that they had crafted legislation that would replace large planned cuts to defense programs with reductions in other areas. The proposed cuts resulted from last year's failure of a bipartisan panel to determine ways to reduce the deficit.Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Marco Rubio of Florida propose replacing $110 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts for 2013 with a freeze in federal employee pay through 2014, all toward avoiding approximately $500 billion in cuts the Pentagon means to spread over 10 years.The bill also seeks to restrict federal hiring to only two employees for every three leaving, until the size of the federal government workforce is reduced by 5 percent.

It's a curious approach to negotiating. As Republican lawmakers see it, the debt-reduction "compromise" should include $2 trillion in savings, without any tax increases on anyone, and without cutting priorities the GOP likes.

Time will tell if Democrats are amenable to GOP demands -- it seems unlikely they will be -- but in the bigger picture, this is quite a reversal. In effect, Republicans said in August, "If we fail, we'll accept these cuts we don't want." The same Republicans are now effectively saying, "It turns out, we don't like our idea anymore."