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Obama seeks 'balanced deal' to avoid sequester

At the end of the month, deep, automatic sequestration cuts are due to kick in, hurting the economy, the Defense Department, and the general public.

At the end of the month, deep, automatic sequestration cuts are due to kick in, hurting the economy, the Defense Department, and the general public. Policymakers have until the end of the month -- three weeks from Thursday -- to deal with the policy before the $1.2 trillion in cuts begin.

Today, President Obama said he and Congress have already approved more than $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction, and get to $4 trillion "with a balanced mix of spending cuts and more tax reform," with the latter including changes "so that the wealthiest individuals and corporations can't take advantage of loopholes and deductions that aren't available to most Americans."

Is there time for a major budget agreement and a tax-reform compromise? Of course not, which is why Obama suggested Congress pass "a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would delay the economically damaging effects of the sequester for a few more months until Congress finds a way to replace these cuts with a smarter solution."

And, of course, Republicans immediately rejected the idea and threatened to do deliberate harm to the economy.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who sometimes seems confused about what the sequester actually is, said in a statement:

"President Obama first proposed the sequester and insisted it become law [1].  Republicans have twice voted to replace these arbitrary cuts with common-sense cuts and reforms that protect our national defense [2]. We believe there is a better way to reduce the deficit, but Americans do not support sacrificing real spending cuts for more tax hikes [3]. The president's sequester should be replaced with spending cuts and reforms that will start us on the path to balancing the budget in 10 years [4]."

This is deeply silly, and I have to assume even Boehner knows how wrong his statement is. Indeed, it's why I felt the need to annotate it.

The sequester [1] wasn't "first proposed" by Obama; it was the GOP alternative to automatic tax hikes. Republican alternatives [2] to sequestration cuts -- slashing public investments in domestic policy -- were obviously ridiculous and not intended as a serious attempt at a bipartisan compromise.

Obama isn't proposing tax hikes [3]; he's proposing savings through closed tax loopholes, which is exactly what Boehner himself suggested a couple of months ago. And calling for a plan that is made up of 100% spending cuts [4] is obviously neither "bipartisan" nor "balanced."

This is all deeply stupid. We know the economy shrinks when there are deep spending cuts -- we received a dramatic reminder on Friday -- and we know the economy will do fairly well this year unless congressional Republicans make it worse on purpose. Boehner takes this knowledge and insists on more deep spending cuts and threats that will make the economy worse on purpose.

Why? Because he claims to be desperate to reduce the deficit -- the deficit that (a) he helped blow up during the Bush/Cheney era, and (b) is already shrinking dramatically anyway.

What's more, in the larger context, note that the whole point behind the sequester was it was intended to force both sides to the negotiating table to strike a balanced deal. Instead, congressional Republicans are pretending this policy wasn't their idea, and don't want to negotiate at all.

Even by the standards of the House GOP, we're dealing with a truly ridiculous set of circumstances.

Update: Note that today isn't the first time Boehner has seemed unnervingly confused about the basics of the sequester.