WASHINGTON — Now that Republicans have delayed the debt ceiling issue for three months, their next point of attack, they say, is the deep spending cuts in the so-called "sequester." House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, told the Wall Street Journal's editorial board that the sequester is "as much leverage as we're going to get." He meant that to sound reassuring to conservatives. But I can't figure out why they would be reassured.
The problem with the GOP's plan to use the sequester as leverage is evident as soon as you stop using the vague term "sequester" and instead call the policy what it is: a bunch of very dumb — but extremely Democratic-friendly — spending cuts. Republicans want Democrats to replace the sequester with an equal amount of spending cuts that Republicans like better. That's not, for Democrats, a very good deal, and it's hard to see why they would take it.
To understand the problem Republicans are going to have using the sequester as leverage, you need to understand the bargain they made when they created it. The policy dates to the final days of the 2011 debt-ceiling fight. Both sides decided that the only way out of that mess was to kick the can down the road. So they formed the "supercommittee," a bipartisan group of legislators charged with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.
The problem with the supercommittee was obvious: If Congress couldn't agree on a deficit-reduction package, why would the committee have any more luck? The sequester was meant to be the answer to that question: If the supercommittee failed, the sequester would cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion automatically, but it would do it in such a mindless, blunt way that neither party would be able to live with the consequences.