Boehner May Not Have The Votes To Replace The Sequester

Roll Call reports that Speaker John Boehner may not have sufficient support in his own conference to pass a bill that would replace the sequester:

Speaker John A. Boehner’s decision to wait on the Senate before taking up a sequester replacement bill may be more tied to his own difficulties getting the votes for one than to a calculated political messaging strategy.

The Ohio Republican and other House leaders have repeatedly noted that the chamber passed two sequester substitutes last year, and they have used that fact to challenge the Senate to act. But the House has not yet approved any legislation in the new Congress to avert the more than $1 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts that will begin Friday.

The previous measures passed during the 112th Congress and would have to be passed again before the Senate could even consider taking them up. But even in the 112th Congress, both bills squeaked by with few votes to spare. That has led some sources to speculate that if the House brought up a similar bill again, it would quite simply fail.

“All the momentum in House Republican circles now is for keeping the sequester as is. I don’t see how any sequester replacement bill could get any oxygen for the foreseeable future,” one Republican aide said.

Indeed, many House Republicans have accepted the sequester as a reality, holding that it’s the only way to extract spending cuts from Democrats, no matter how bad the consequences back home in their districts.


Besides sequester replacement fatigue, however, House GOP leaders face a numbers problem.

Last year, the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act passed 218-199 in May with 16 Republicans voting against it. Then in December, the Spending Reduction Act passed by an even slimmer margin, 215-209, with 21 Republicans opposed. No Democrat supported either bill.

More than 30 Republican members who supported the bills are no longer serving in the House because of retirement, loss of election or running for another office. And in the 113th Congress, Republicans have eight fewer seats in the House.

All that leaves Republicans with the near-impossible task of whipping another sequester replacement bill that could pass without Democrats if they chose to bring it to the floor.

Still, in meetings with rank-and-file members and around the leadership table early in this Congress, House Republican leaders floated the idea of putting another such bill on the floor. What they found is that members had no appetite to vote on such a bill again, according to one GOP leadership aide.

“The conference feels that we’ve made our point by passing the sequester replacement act two times,” the aide said.

This would seem to make it unlikely that we’ll see any action on the sequester before March 1st

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    Since when has Boehner had sufficient support in his own conference to pass anything that doesn’t start a fire?

  2. swearyanthony says:

    weakest speaker in modern times. regardless of whether you agree with Pelosi’s politics, at least she could get the votes in line.

  3. Dividist says:

    More important – Why would the Republicans even consider replacing the sequester before it goes into effect?

    Their negotiating hand was was busted when the President called their bluff on the debt ceiling in December. They had to take tax increases and two months of debt increase without any cuts whatsoever. A complete smackdown. It was a clear win/lose and that means there can be no negotiating a win/win until both sides feel they have cards to play.

    Now the R’s get cuts without tax increases by simply doing nothing. It would be foolish to not take the bird in hand and let the cuts go into effect.

    Are some of the cuts damaging and stupid? Certainly. But by taking the cuts now they have something to trade for the real negotiation that follows immediately thereafter – the Continuing Resolution and/or Budget.

    The sequester cuts qualitatively levels the playing field. It sets the stage for both parties to come to the table with negotiating chips that the other side wants. This creates the opportunity yet again for a Grand Bargain which – unlike the meager “cuts” in the sequester – could address both tax reform and entitlements in a manner that actually solves the real problem.

    Of course no one will be happy with any Grand Bargain built on real compromise. Boehner, Pelosi, Reid and McConnell will lose the extremes of their caucus. But an agreed Grand Bargain compromise can and will pass on a bipartisan vote, much like the Debt Ceiling vote in January.

    Maybe I am being Pollyannish, but I think it will happen this time. Not now – end of March with the CR negotiation.

    [Holy crap – I just noticed I used 3 different metaphors for a negotiation – “playing field”, “setting the stage”, poker “chips” – in two sentences of one paragraph! I think that is a new record for me. I’m going to let it stand.]

  4. Gustopher says:

    “The conference feels that we’ve made our point by passing the sequester replacement act two times,” the aide said.

    Oh, they are making points. I thought they were supposed to be governing. My mistake.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    Republicans wanted the sequester, they’ve got the sequester, and now they’re going to get the cuts they’ve wanted.

    All we can do is hope that they are just reductions in the rate of increase in spending, and not actual cuts, because that will cause a recession. The primary drag on the recovery since 2009 has been the constant loss of government jobs over the past 4 years, and real spending cuts will cause more unemployment. Republicans support policies that will cause a recession.

  6. Dividist says:

    @al-Ameda: No worries. They’re not “real” in the conventional sense that spending actually decrease year on year.

    Even after the sequester “cuts” federal spending increases year on year from $3.538T to $3.553T. Only in Washington could these be called “cuts”

  7. Console says:


    And only in the beltway/ignorant centrist mind does inflation or scope of mission not factor into spending. From 2012 compared to now, is there less children to teach? Less wars to fight? Less air traffic to control? Less borders to defend?

    You want to stay out of the weeds on policy and play David Brooksian moderate, fine. But reality still exists.

  8. HelloWorld! says:

    Why don’t the republicans just pass a bill that raises spending for the things they want? Oh, wait, then they wouldn’t get to blame the president for increasing spending. I see…

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:


    Why don’t the republicans just pass a bill that raises spending for the things they want?

    They did.

  10. HelloWorld! says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Really? They passed a bill to increase spending on just the things they wanted? I missed that, please refer me to a source as I am curious.

  11. J-Dub says:


    Here’s a source, directly from the CBO, of what would be cut in the GOP plan that passed:

    In summary, cut everything the Dems want and none from the GOP.

  12. David M says:

    Keep in mind that bill was passed in the last session of Congress, so it’s no longer active.

    Also, Boehner may not have enough GOP votes to replace the sequester, but he could easily negotiate and pass a compromise replacement if he wanted.