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Senate leader 'not backing off' sequestration

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has heard all the doom-and-gloom rhetoric about the dangers of sequestration, but y'know what? He's not scared.

Reid, the Nevada Democrat, told POLITICO's David Rogers on Thursday that if congressional Republicans are not willing to budge in resolving the impasse on resolving the deficit, neither is he. The Democratic caucus would let the Sword of Damocles fall.

Wrote Rogers:

In an interview with POLITICO, Reid said he was open to a compromise that would salvage about four-fifths of the Bush-era tax cuts. But absent some concession on revenues, the $110 billion in spending cuts ordered by the debt agreement last August would go into effect.

“I am not going to back off the sequestration,” Reid said. “That’s the law we passed. We did it because it wouldn’t make things easy for us. It made it so we would have to do something. And if we didn’t, these cuts would kick in. To now see the Republicans scrambling to do away with the cuts to defense, I will not accept that,” Reid said. “My people — in the state of Nevada and I think the country — have had enough of whacking all the programs. We’ve cut them to a bare bone, and defense is going to have to bear their share of the burden.”

This is a major escalation from just months ago, when Obama’s 2013 budget cheerfully assumed that the sequester would never happen. And it takes direct aim at pro-defense Republicans, who have been a mainstay for Boehner inside the GOP and one very big reason the speaker had to fast-forward to try to add the debt ceiling to the fight.

'You wanna play rough?' Reid is asking. 'OK, let's play rough.' He and Senate Democrats were so put off by the House's aggressive action to protect defense and curtail other spending that they've declared their willingness to let the sequester go into effect as a way to guarantee blowback -- to wind up using the Doomsday Device exactly as it was designed.

Continued Rogers:

[House Republicans'] package shields the Pentagon entirely from sequester and even allows for an $8 billion spending increase over 2012 and what was promised in the August debt accords. At the same time, poverty programs like food stamps, Medicaid and the Social Services Block Grant face real cuts together with wholesale reductions at the expense of Obama’s signature health care and financial market reforms.

Even conservative columnists have since argued that the GOP’s single-minded protection of defense — without any new revenues — is untenable. Roman Catholic bishops — allied with Boehner in the past — protested the cuts that hurt the poor. But the real killer for many Democrats is that even if they were to agree to the House demands, it is just a one-year fix and Congress will be back facing the same Hobson’s choices next year.

Reid’s wrath is directed less at Boehner personally than the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, whose own “no” vote — the Taxpayer Protection Pledge — has done so much to stymie efforts to reach compromise on revenues.

Unless Grover Norquist is reined in, the answer is yes,” Reid said when asked about the likelihood of the sequester going into effect. “These people all signed a pledge that they weren’t going to raise taxes. We cannot do this without raising taxes.”

To be sure, Congress is not going to take any real action on this until after the election, so there's plenty of airtime and very little risk in this kind of bellicose drum-beating. Nothing anyone says now will likely have any effect on what the Hill ultimately does.

However, a lot of what Washington leaders are saying does have an effect on what people elsewhere do -- especially the hundreds of thousands of Americans whose livelihood depends on the military-industrial-congressional complex. It's all very well for Reid and his Republican opponents to rattle their sabers at each other and amuse the Beltway grandstand, but what if you're out there trying to decide how to run your business for the rest of the year? We've heard Boeing CEO Jim McNerney warn that he could need to lay people off even before a potential sequestration, and this kind of Hill bluster does not help allay his or anyone else's fears.

But there's nothing for it -- at this rate, the Iron Triangle will be biting its nails right up until midnight.

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