The deep, across-the-board "sequester" cuts set to trigger March 1 risk devastating the U.S. economy and should be averted, both political parties have agreed, but - as several Republicans established today - not necessarily at all costs.
Arguing there are "much better ways to do these budget cuts," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., on CNN's "State of the Union" today said further tinkering with the newly minted tax rates is "off the table," and that Democrats' proposal to generate more revenue isn't going to win over the GOP.
"Let me be very clear - and I'd say this to the president as I say it to you - these spending cuts are going to go through," Barrasso said. "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."
Congress and the White House resolved the 2011 debt ceiling drama in part by scheduling for 2012 a host of automatic spending cuts worth $1.2 trillion over 10 years, designed to be so drastic that Republicans and Democrats would be compelled in the meantime to craft an alternate, bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction. Amid the so-called "fiscal cliff" ordeal at the end of 2012, lawmakers granted themselves a two-month extension for March 1.
Two weeks out, no single substitute plan exists.
Appearing on "Face the Nation," former Gov. Haley Barbour agreed the sequester is looking ever more likely to become a reality, and echoed Barrasso's case for cracking down on tax rates.
"There are a lot of Republicans that don't like parts of [the sequester], but they understand we've come to a point where we've got to take action about spending," the Mississippi Republican said. "And the Democrats say the real answer is to have 50 percent more tax increases.
"...It was the president's idea when the sequester was proposed to be put into law a couple of years ago, and there are plenty of reasons for to not want it to go into effect, particularly the defense spending," he continued. "What the Democrats want is another excuse to raise taxes. Their answer to every question is, 'raise taxes.'"
Meantime, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on "Fox News Sunday" tendered the most pro-sequester remarks yet. Qualifying that "ideally, we would have done the right thing" and pass appropriations bills to reduce spending," he said the sequester cuts aren't cuts at all, but a way to reduce the rate of inevitable spending growth.
But President Obama hasn't "given up" on coming up with an alternative to avert the current set of cuts, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough argued on "Face the Nation," and he's doing "everything he can to not let this happen." In his State of the Union address earlier this week, McDonough said, the president laid out what he's prepared to offer to avoid the cuts.
"We're ready to do another trillion-and-a-half to get to the $4 trillion mark that every economist in the country says we need to do to stabilize the debt problem," he said. "Now when we think of the kinds of things that we're going to have to invest in, the president has also been very clear that he's ready to take on, as he laid out in the speech, a question like rising health care costs and Medicare."
Proposals being floated by Mr. Obama, as well as the Democrat-controlled Senate, McDonough argued, are "both very balanced plans that get some savings in this deficit fight from spending cuts, and some savings from increased revenues." Senate Democrats last week suggested a $110 billion measure to again delay the cuts.
What the Republican-controlled House has relayed, he continued, "is that they will not even consider anything that includes increased revenues. Not even closing loopholes for corporate jets, closing loopholes for oil and gas companies. That seems to me to be a position that we ought to have them reexamine and come to the table, and let's have a real discussion about it."}
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., dissenting from his Republican colleagues, implied on "Fox News Sunday" it's not worth a political statement to hurl the U.S. economy into instability: "I think we should have in a bipartisan fashion stop sequestration before - in the words of the secretary of defense - it destroys the Pentagon," he said. If no alternate deal is reached by March 1, the Pentagon would be forced to implement a plan to cut its budget by about $500 billion over 10 years.
One way for the president to slash spending by another $1.5 trillion, Graham offered, is to sacrifice his signature, Republican-reviled Affordable Care Act.
"Let's take Obamacare and put it on the table," he said. "If you want to look at ways to find $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade, let's look at Obamacare. Let's don't destroy the military and just cut blindly across the board. There are many ways to do this, but the president promised it won't happen."
On "Face the Nation," Democratic Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker said of the likelihood of sequestration happening: "I pray it doesn't."
"The challenge I see right now, if... the sequester happens," Booker continued, "the cuts will be blunt, brutal and blind, as opposed to being intelligent and insightful. And it will not invest. It will stop us from investing in those critical areas in America we must invest on if we want long-term economic growth."