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Sequestration Intervention? Report Does Little to Spur Action to Avert Cuts

Republicans decry lack of presidential leadership to avoid onerous defense cuts, while Dems dig in with a tax-the-rich bargaining chip.

by
Bridget Johnson

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September 17, 2012 - 5:33 pm
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The attacks on U.S. installations abroad and boiling tensions in the Muslim world handily overshadowed Friday’s release of President Obama’s past-due report to Congress on the devastating effects budget sequestration would have on America’s defense.

The automatic cuts including a $600 billion bite out of defense, triggered by the failure of the super committee to reach a deficit-reduction agreement, go into effect Jan. 3 unless action is taken to avert them.

Congress breaks for the campaign at the end of this week, leaving the lame-duck session as the last best hope to save military might and more than a million jobs that could be axed from small businesses to giant defense contractors.

In accordance with the Sequestration Transparency Act — though several days past the law’s deadline — President Obama submitted the 394-page report detailing where the cuts would be implemented to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Friday.

“The sequester was put into place as part of the Budget Control Act in order to compel Congress to do its job. The sequester was designed to be bad policy, to be onerous, to be objectionable to both Democrats and Republicans,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

“The whole point of it was to compel Congress to take action to further reduce our deficit, to find $1.2 trillion in additional cuts — cuts that should come in a balanced, thoughtful way through policy decisions and not in a kind of across-the-board draconian manner that is written into the sequester,” he added.

The administration and the president have consistently tied aversion of the sequester cuts to not extending the Bush-era tax cuts to upper income brackets, essentially holding defense hostage to drive through a long-stated “fair share” policy aim.

“These bipartisan automatic cuts were put in place to give both sides a strong incentive to make a deal, and they are not going to go away simply because nobody wants them to be enacted. They are going to have to be replaced, and that replacement is going to have to be balanced,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

“What Republicans aren’t saying when they are yelling and screaming about these cuts is that they helped pass them into law and that they can just as easily help make them go away,” she said. “But thus far they have been unwilling to face up to the reality that it will take a balanced approach to make that happen.”

In the report, the Office of Management and Budget implores Congress to work together to avoid the sequester.

“Sequestration would have a devastating impact on important defense and nondefense programs,” the report states. On the non-defense side, cuts would include Federal Aviation Administration thinning and “slashed” numbers of FBI and Border Patrol agents. The cuts would hit more than 1,200 budgets across the board. And, in a chilling reminder of last week’s tragedy, embassy security, construction, and maintenance would take an 8.2 percent hit as well as protection of foreign missions and officials.

After some opening summary pages, it lists hundreds of pages of programs and how much would be cut from each budget under sequestration.

“This report provides no direction as to how sequestration will be implemented if it were to occur; nor does it guarantee that our military will possess the equipment, personnel, and capability needed to keep America safe,” said Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

“The White House’s report on the impacts of the sequester is ugly, as it was supposed to be. The sequester was designed to be an awful solution to an urgent problem — the worst-case scenario for if Congress fails to act responsibly,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). “The White House has now painted a graphic picture of what that scenario will look like.”

“For 13 months, Congress has had the opportunity to take the steps necessary to prevent the sequester from kicking in, but has failed to do so,” he said. “It is my hope this report serves as a wake-up call.”

Other Democrats were more confident that Congress will reach for what it does best: 11th-hour nail-biting dealmaking to avert a fiscal freefall.

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