John Boehner’s laughably weak leadership as House Majority Leader surely must be seen as being partly to blame for the sequester — the Tea Party caucus in Congress clearly has a tight leash on the Speaker.
But at least Boehner tried for a “Grand Bargain” with President Obama in 2011, only to be reined in by Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, according to a recent interview Cantor conducted with The New Yorker‘s Washington correspondent, Ryan Lizza. Cantor admitted that there was a final meeting with Boehner, Ryan and himself where Boehner wanted to accept the president’s $1.2 trillion offer, but was talked out of it by Cantor and Ryan.
“The reason why we said no in that meeting, ‘don’t do this deal,’ was because what that deal was, was basically going along with this sense that you had to increase taxes, you had to give on the question of middle-class tax cuts prior to the election,” said Cantor. “And you knew that they had said they weren’t giving in on health care.”
So basically, this was about the 2012 election. Cantor and Ryan wanted to let the voters decide on taxes and health care instead of preempting it with the Obama-Boehner Grand Bargain. Then in November, the American public overwhelmingly voted for President Obama and his balanced approach to deficit reduction and growing the economy through a mix of spending cuts, tax revenues and closing corporate loopholes — a result that has been confirmed in repeated polls. The American people also doubled down on Obamacare by re-electing the president.
Cantor concluded the interview with Lizza with this telling remark: “That’s why we said, ‘Let’s just get what we can now, abide by our commitment of dollar-for-dollar, and we’ll have it out, as the president said, on these two issues in the election.’”
The failure of the Grand Bargain resulted in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which included the automatic budget sequestration.
So it is now clear that Cantor and Ryan killed the Grand Bargain, leading to the sequester and the onset of European-style austerity and possibly another recession, and their basis for that was their supreme confidence that they would win the election. What is unclear is why, after their ideas were thoroughly rejected, they are defying the will of the American people and a popular president by refusing to compromise.
Could it be that they wanted this all along? Here is what Ryan said after the law putting the sequester in place was passed in August, 2011:
“What conservatives like me have been fighting for, for years, are statutory caps on spending, legal caps in law that says government agencies cannot spend over a set amount of money. And if they breach that amount across the board, sequester comes in to cut that spending, and you can’t turn that off without a supermajority vote. We got that in law. That is here.”
Photo: RobinVBrown via Flickr