Deadline legislating is once again the talk of Washington, with all sides now demanding an end to the automatic spending sequesters — even though just a few weeks ago many of them seemed to be bracing, or in some cases even welcoming, the $85 billion in cuts divided between defense and domestic needs.
President Obama’s senior advisers huddled Wednesday with leaders in the defense industry to try to enlist them in his push to raise taxes to replace some of the cuts, while a group of defense-hawk Republicans filed bills in the House and Senate to cancel the defense cuts and replace them with savings from attrition in the federal workforce.
“I visited with our top leaders and they have told me we have gone past cutting the fat, we’ve gone past cutting the meat, we’re into the bone,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican. “Where they’re going to have to cut will reduce the ability to train and equip these people properly. And that’s going to start costing lives.”
Not everyone agrees. Some Republicans say they are ready to swallow defense cuts March 1 in order to get the domestic cuts, and they say the Defense Department has grown along with the rest of government and can handle the trims.
Most Democrats don’t want to see the nondefense cuts and argue that they would cut domestic discretionary spending to a share of the national economy unseen in the past 50 years.
Those divisions have added a level of complexity to the ongoing dispute between Republicans who want only spending cuts and Democrats who say at least half of the money must come from another round of tax increases.
The impasse leaves both sides staring at the latest do-or-die deadline, just a month after Mr. Obama and Congress surmounted the “fiscal cliff” by raising tax rates.
This latest deadline is the result of the 2011 budget deal, which granted Mr. Obama an increase in federal borrowing authority in exchange for capping discretionary spending for the rest of this decade, and for imposing $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts.
The cuts were supposed to be so blunt that they would force both sides to compromise on a deal to replace them. But the bipartisan supercommittee failed to reach a deal, leaving the cuts in place.
Even though the full bite of the cuts won’t be felt until March, the effects already are hitting.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that it would cut the Navy’s presence in the Persian Gulf region from two aircraft carrier groups down to one, The Associated Press reported.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta called the sequesters “legislative madness” and said the level of defense cuts would threaten U.S. readiness.
“For those of you that have ever seen ‘Blazing Saddles,’ it’s the scene of the sheriff putting the gun to his head in order to try to establish law and order. That’s sequestration,” he said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Obama begged Congress to replace half of the sequesters with tax increases, saying that eliminating tax deductions claimed chiefly by the wealthy could be used to plug the budget gap.View Entire Story
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Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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