President Obama’s vow at Monday’s debate that the sequestration cuts “will not happen” could come back to haunt him during Congress’s lame-duck negotiations on the fiscal cliff if he is reelected.

Republicans were already licking their chops at Obama’s statement Tuesday, and the White House was quickly backtracking the remark after the debate.

Republicans said that Obama has given away leverage in any lame-duck talks.

“He has, which is why White House aides were immediately trying to walk it back,” said one GOP House aide.

The Pentagon cuts were supposed to be more painful for defense hawks in the Republican Party and force them to agree to a deal that raises taxes by closing loopholes. Democrats have floated ending tax breaks for oil companies and imposing a minimum tax on millionaires as part of a sequester replacement deal.