- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2013

If the spending sequesters happen, get ready for the great beef shortage of 2013.

The Obama administration said Thursday that the across-the-board cuts would mean furloughs for food safety inspectors, and if those inspectors aren’t on the job, meat-processing plants can’t open.

That means 2 billion pounds of beef and pork and potentially more than 3 billion pounds of poultry will never make it to the market, causing shortages and price spikes across the economy.

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“This is going to adversely affect every consumer in America,” said Sen. Mark L. Pryor, Arkansas Democrat.

With the automatic cuts looming March 1, the Obama administration is offering more specifics on what lower spending would mean, pointing to everything from fewer agents on the U.S.-Mexico border to cutting funding for special education in school districts around the country.

The sequesters, totaling $110 billion for the rest of this calendar year and nearly $1 trillion over the next decade, were set in place by the 2011 debt deal. President Obama got the authority to raise the federal borrowing limit by more than $2 trillion in exchange for cuts, spread out over 10 years, designed to hit domestic and defense spending.

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Now, both parties are arguing over whether to cancel the cuts and, if so, what to replace them with.

On Thursday, Senate Democrats rolled out their offer: canceling this year’s cuts and replacing them with smaller defense cuts, lower agriculture subsidies and a new minimum tax on millionaires, all spread out over 10 years.

“The Democratic proposal to replace sequestration is balanced, it’s fair, it’s good for middle-class families and the economy,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, Washington Democrat.

Mr. Obama blessed the plan Thursday evening, saying through press secretary Jay Carney that Republicans now face a choice: “Do they protect investments in education, health care and national defense or do they continue to prioritize and protect tax loopholes that benefit the very few.”

The tax increase would come in the form of the so-called Buffett rule, named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who suggested it. It would impose a minimum 30 percent tax rate on millionaires, who often end up paying lower percentages of their income in taxes than average Americans because much of their income is from investments, which are taxed at lower rates.

But Republicans said the plan can’t clear the Senate, much less the GOP-controlled House. After agreeing to raise taxes as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal earlier this year, Republicans said they will not allow any more tax increases.

They pointed to plans House Republicans passed last year to replace the defense cuts with more domestic cuts.

Either way, action will have to wait until the end of this month. Congress is on vacation next week and won’t return until Feb. 25 at the earliest — leaving just four days before the sequesters take effect.

The White House this month has been trying to ramp up the pressure on Republicans by pointing to areas where the cuts will hit.

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