Republicans instead chose to swallow the sequester cuts, even for programs they like. That's one reason discretionary spending — which excludes entitlements and accounts for about 40 percent of the federal budget — is projected to reach historic lows in the years ahead.
Anti-tax champions are crowing.
"Republicans have the high ground," said Grover Norquist, author of a "no new taxes" pledge reviled by many in Washington and signed by most Republicans in Congress.
In the upcoming round of bipartisan talks, he said, Democrats will have little leverage to seek new revenues.
Some Republicans say closing tax loopholes might generate a bit more revenue. But anything categorized as a "tax increase" is "a nonstarter," Norquist said, "because Republicans are not going to raise taxes."
Republicans weren't always so adamant about not raising taxes, and Democrats weren't always so resigned to that stand. Bush's big tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 were deeply controversial. Countless interest groups denounced them, and most Democrats and a few Senate Republicans opposed them.
Over time, however, Republicans strongly supported their full continuation, beyond their 10-year expiration date. And Democrats, including Obama, agreed to make permanent the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone except couples making more than $450,000.
Since Republicans took over the House in 2011, the combination of spending cuts and tax hikes is projected to reduce deficits by nearly $4 trillion over 10 years. The formula calls for about $1 in new revenue for every $4 in spending cuts, a ratio that dismays liberals.
The agreements have barely dented Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Officials say these automatically expanding programs will consume ever-larger portions of government spending if not modified.
Democrats, conceding they can't overcome the Republicans' no-new-taxes stand, suggest the renewed bipartisan talks are unlikely to yield significant changes to entitlement growth.
That's too bad, says Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy aide to President Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official under President George H. W. Bush. "Small changes now would compound into meaningful dollars saved decades down the road," he said.