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.
“Today’s report states that ‘sequestration would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments, and core government functions,’ and that ‘Congress can and should take action to avoid it by passing a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction package,’” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Friday. “I completely agree, as do the vast majority of members of Congress, which is why I am confident sequestration will not occur.”
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused the commander in chief of being AWOL in providing the leadership needed to avoid sequestration.
“Although the sequestration report lacks detail, it makes glaringly clear that those programs most closely related to combat readiness of the force will be severely cut. And while the report claims that the president has offered ‘balanced and comprehensive deficit reduction’ solutions, his plan was so unserious that it was rejected by every single member of Congres,” McConnell said.
“Sadly, it took passage of the Sequester Transparency Act to force the Obama administration to tell the American people what programs will be affected by these cuts. The President’s own defense secretary has said these cuts would hollow out our Armed Forces, yet the President refuses to join Republicans who want to responsibly replace them before they go into effect,” he added.
Two Republicans in districts that would be especially hard-hit by defense cuts refused to vote for last week’s continuing resolution that acts as a stop-gap measure to fund the government for six months.
“It is simply unconscionable for Congress to pass a bill that ignores the looming cuts coming in January,” Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said. “…With two and a half weeks to go before the new fiscal year begins, Congress should remain in Washington, and have a serious discussion on solutions to fund our government responsibly, and address the looming threat of defense cuts.”
“These cuts threaten our national security while costing an estimated 200,000 jobs in Virginia. This is too important to ignore, and a time to put governing over politics.”
“Beyond this concern for our Navy and shipbuilding operations, we must hold Washington accountable for passing a real budget and all of the appropriations bills for which it is responsible,” said Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.). “Every American family operates on a budget; so too must our government. These short-term continuing resolutions are creating uncertainty in the private sector and hurting our country.”
On the same day as the CR, the House passed Rep. Allen West’s (R-Fla.) National Security and Job Protection Act 223-196 to repeal sequestration contingent upon the enactment of legislation to offset the cuts elsewhere.
With Libya, Egypt and Israel dominating the headlines, the sequestration report got slight mentions on just two of the Sunday news shows, even though the crises highlight the urgent need to keep America’s military strong.
On CNN’s State of the Union, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) defended Obama for not taking the hands-on President Clinton approach of trying to offer guidance to Congress and get members in the same room to forge agreements.
“I would say that they both score very high in terms of leadership,” Pelosi said. “If you measure leadership in the number of phone calls, well, that might be a little bit of a different story because they’re different personalities.”
Without that intense drive to consensus-build, though, and with Obama’s deep desire to see tax cuts canceled for the wealthy as a condition to move forward, there’s little indication that sequestration will get the pre-election attention it needs.
“Congress still has time to prevent the cuts detailed in this report from taking effect. What is unclear is whether Congress has the will,” Coons said. “Congress must act, and it should not wait until after the election to do so.”