WASHINGTON – With Washington stalemated over the coming “sequester,” one Republican lawmaker suggested swapping the steep budget cuts for a rollback of President Obama’s regulatory agenda as a way around the impasse.
The idea is a new approach, one that shifts away from the Republican-held position that cuts alone can be used to solve the nation’s deficit problems. It is a long-shot.
“Republicans would be open to a plethora of alternatives,” said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), among those conservative lawmakers who voted against the original sequester deal. “I would prefer to have this magnitude of cuts, just not in this manner.”
Republicans have repeatedly sought to stop new regulations coming from the Obama administration, particularly those governing clean air and water at the Environmental Protection Agency, which lawmakers argue are bad for business.
The Republican majority in the House approved dozens of bills last session to prevent tougher emission requirements on industrial boilers, cement manufacturers and other industries, only to see the legislative efforts largely stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Aides say there remains a big appetite among Republicans to ensure businesses are not faced with new requirements. Going after regulations could find favor among some Democrats who might join Republicans in hoping to protect home-state industries.
Such an approach remains unlikely to prevent Friday’s scheduled cuts, as virtually no negotiations are underway on the “balanced” approach of new tax revenue and spending cuts Obama insists on to rein in deficits.
The White House is not convinced House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) could rally his severely divided Republican majority to pass an alternative to the “sequester” cuts, which are scheduled to begin slicing 13% off defense accounts and 9% from other domestic spending. Nonpartisan economists project the ripple effect would cost 750,000 jobs this year.
While Democrats have divisions within their ranks over Obama’s tax proposals, Republicans are split between the defense hawks, who want to spare the Pentagon from cuts, and the deficit hawks who see the sequester as their best chance to achieve spending cuts that have eluded them in the past showdowns with the administration.
Any money saved by rolling back regulations would be difficult to quantify. Experts have said loosening regulations could provide long-term savings to industry, but could also be a mixed bag if those are offset by costs to public health.
One thing Republicans do agree on is that Obama’s team came up with the sequester in 2011, when the president and Boehner were negotiating an earlier budget deal.
The sequester was seen as a last-ditch option – cuts so painful to both sides that they would be forced back to the negotiating table to devise an alternative. That never happened as Obama insisted on asking wealthier Americans and corporations to pay more taxes, and Republicans held firm for a cuts-only approach.
Both parties voted that summer to approve the sequester, expecting the other would yield to an agreement. Neither did.