- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The House’s No. 2 Democrat says the nation will suffer if the congressional debt reduction committee fails and mandatory spending cuts kick in, staking a position that the panel must reach its goal of finding ways to slash $1.5 trillion from the federal debt.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer’s comments Tuesday were aimed at dismissing suggestions that Democrats would prefer the automatic spending cuts - a process called sequestration - over a Republican deal that included big cuts to entitlement programs.

“The sequester is not an option … [it] will not have a positive outcome,” said the Maryland Democrat during his weekly briefing with reporters at the Capitol. “That ought to compel all sides towards reaching an agreement.”

The 12-member bipartisan supercommittee must vote by Thanksgiving on a 10-year plan to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion, on which the House and Senate would vote before Christmas. Failure to pass a package would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts affecting a wide range of domestic programs, as well as the Pentagon.

The two big roadblocks facing the debt panel are how to tackle entitlement and tax reforms. Democrats have resisted significant cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement programs, while Republicans have been steadfast in their opposition to any tax increases.

If the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts are imposed, about half would target the Pentagon. Social Security and Medicare benefits would be untouched, leading to speculation that Democrats might consider sequestration the “lesser of two evils” compared with a Republican plan.

But Mr. Hoyer said the automatic cuts would have “harmful effects on both the defense side and the non-defense side.”

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta also has expressed concerns that the approximately $600 billion the Pentagon would lose under the sequestration method would hurt national defense.

“It is a blind, mindless formula that makes cuts across the board, hampers our ability to align resources with strategy and risks hollowing out the force,” Mr. Panetta told the House Armed Services Committee earlier this month.

A report conducted on behalf of the Aerospace Industries Association released Tuesday also predicted that more than a million American jobs could be lost as a result of defense budget cuts using sequestration.

“Congress must find budget deficit solutions that don’t sacrifice the jobs of those who supply the American war fighter,” said AIA President and CEO Marion C. Blakey.

Mr. Hoyer said he is hopeful but not optimistic the debt reduction panel will reach its goal.

“People ask me ‘Are you optimistic?’ I said, ‘Look, I’m not optimistic; I am hopeful,’ ” he said. “It is absolutely essential that we do so, that we succeed in producing a product, producing a product that is a big deal, not a small deal.

“If we do a small deal, we have to revisit that.”

The supercommittee, which has met mostly in private, will hold a public hearing Wednesday, with Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf scheduled to testify.