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Whose idea was the sequester? And does it matter? (+video)

The Republicans point to Bob Woodward's book as evidence it's the 'Obamaquester.' Democrats counter with a Boehner slideshow that just resurfaced. The public is left scratching its head. 

By Staff writer / February 20, 2013

President Barack Obama speaks about the 'sequester' Tuesday at the White House in Washington, as he stands with emergency responders, a group of workers the White House says could be affected if state and local governments lose federal money as a result of budget cuts.

Charles Dharapak/AP



Debate is raging in Washington over the origins of the “sequester” – the deep, almost-across-the-board federal spending cuts that go into effect March 1 if Congress doesn’t act.

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Of the 800,000 civilians who work for the Department of Defense, an estimated 700,000 would be furloughed for one day a week if the sequestration cuts occur.

Exhibit A is Bob Woodward’s book, “The Price of Politics,” which describes how top aides to President Obama brought the idea to Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada in the summer of 2011, when Congress was grappling with the debt ceiling.

The sequester proposal became part of the agreement that allowed the government to keep borrowing to pay its bills – and, as has been repeated ad infinitum, it was never meant to go into effect. It was supposed to be so beyond the pale that it would force the White House and Congress to come up with a deficit-reduction deal that was more finely honed.

But Republicans have latched onto Mr. Woodward’s book as the smoking gun.

Aha, they say, the sequester is Mr. Obama’s baby. They’ve tried to get people to call it the “Obama sequester” or even the “Obamaquester.” It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but it’s more than the Democrats have devised.

Exhibit B is a July 31, 2011, PowerPoint presentation found by John Avlon of The Daily Beast in an old e-mail, reported on Wednesday. The slideshow was put together by House Speaker John Boehner’s office and the GOP’s House-based think tank, the Republican Policy Committee, and describes a “new sequestration process” that would cut spending across the board if the cuts weren’t made by other means.

So there, say Democrats, the sequester is really a Republican idea.

The bottom line, concludes, is that it doesn’t matter. Both parties are responsible for this puppy, the fact-checking site’s report says, because they both voted for it.

“The reality is that the pending cuts would not be possible had both Democrats and Republicans not supported the legislation that included them,” FactCheck says.

The sequester was part of the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which passed the House with 269 “yea” votes – 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats. In the 100-seat Senate, Democrats made up most of the 74 "yea" votes, but there were 28 Republicans in that majority, as well.


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