Why the Spending Cuts Battle Looks Uglier Than Fiscal Cliff Fight

Washington's rushed fiscal cliff deal failed to resolve half of the issue at hand: what to do about the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts.

The short-term deal struck on New Year's Day delayed the cuts for a couple months. Talks are set to resume March 1, and Republicans are ready to play a mean hand by trying to use the debt ceiling debate as its ace-in-the-hole.

U.S. President Barack Obama needs swift approval from the Republican-run Congress to raise the swollen $16.4 trillion debt ceiling next month in order to prevent the U.S. government from a detrimental default. The GOP has said it won't give the nod without some hardnosed across-the-board spending cuts.

Since Republicans gave in to raising taxes (on couples earning more than $450,000) in the fiscal cliff deal, they expect steep spending cuts in return.

The GOP has reiterated on numerous occasions that the country needs to get spending under control. House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, has been the lead advocate on reducing runaway spending.

Boehner voiced his frustration over the budget negotiation in a fresh interview with The Wall Street Journal when he said, "At one point several weeks ago, the president said to me, "We don't have a spending problem.'"

When the two parties meet March 1, Boehner said the debt bill is just "one point of leverage."

He maintains his party will not back down from his self-named Boehner rule that every dollar of raising the debt ceiling will require one dollar of spending cuts over the next ten years.

Boehner believes Republicans have the upper hand in this upcoming debate. He inferred to The Journal that President Obama made a critical political blunder when he thought up the sequester scenario back in 2011.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham also issued a stern warning Sunday on CNN for his fellow Congress members and President Obama.

"In terms of the debt ceiling debate, the rank and file in my conference have had it with last minute deals where you can't read the bill before the ink gets dry," said Graham. "We've got to do better in the future than we've done in the past. This doing things at the last minute behind closed doors must stop."

But Graham said without spending cuts, he can't support the debt limit increase, regardless of the need or immediacy.

"I believe we need to raise the debt ceiling, but if we don't raise it without a plan to get out of debt, all of us should be fired," said Graham.

As far as which spending cuts are on the line, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said cuts should target entitlements Democrats have been reluctant to trim, like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Some Republicans are pushing for more drastic cuts to government agencies.

Rep. Matt Salmon, R-AZ, told the conservative The Human Events Group, "I still want to get rid of the Department of Education and plan to pursue that on the House Education Committee. I campaigned on getting rid of the Departments of Education, Commerce, and Energy and this is the opportunity for conservatives to take up a battle that should have been fought long ago."

Meanwhile, Democrats favor collecting revenue through tax reform instead of drastic spending cuts. Democrats could still try to sneak in tax changes in the spending cuts battle.

President Obama commented from the White House on New Year's Eve that "cutting spending has to go hand-in-hand" with tax changes "so that the wealthiest corporations and individuals can't take advantage of loopholes and deductions that aren't available to most Americans."

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