Four years after agreeing to “sequestration” budget cuts, the White House has emphatically told Congress that President Obama will no longer abide by them and will use his veto to insist that lawmakers boost spending on defense and domestic programs alike.
In letters to the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate spending committees, Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan said sequestration “was never intended to take effect” and that it was time to officially end the budget tool, which has brought deficits under control at the expense of deep cuts to many programs.
Mr. Obama has threatened to veto every single spending bill that is working through Congress.
Republicans accuse the president and congressional Democrats of trying to orchestrate a government shutdown.
Senate Democratic leaders have vowed to back Mr. Obama’s veto threats. If they have their way, they say, it will never get that far because they will filibuster to stop bills in their tracks.
The first test could come this week on the annual defense spending bill, which funds everything from weapons systems to troop pay raises.
“Voting to filibuster would mean allowing Democrat leaders to take from every soldier, every sailor, every Marine, and every man and woman in the Air Force the pay raises they’ve earned, so Democrat leaders can use it as ante in a game of ‘shutdown roulette,’” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
Under the 2011 sequestration agreement, Mr. Obama was able raise more than $2 trillion worth of debt immediately in exchange for promises of spending cuts or tax increases over the ensuing decade totaling the same amount.
A special committee designed to come up with those spending cuts and tax increases stalemated. As a result, across-the-board cuts to defense and basic discretionary spending automatically went into effect.
Republicans, who gained control of both branches of Congress this year, say the defense cuts are too deep. They plan to add tens of billions of dollars to an emergency war-spending account, which allows them to get around the sequester caps.
Mr. Obama, however, says domestic spending must be boosted by the same amount.
“It was supposed to threaten such drastic cuts to both defense and non-defense funding that policymakers would be motivated to come to the table and reduce the deficit through smart, balanced reforms,” Mr. Donovan wrote late Monday.
Mr. Obama’s proposed $4 trillion budget for fiscal 2016 would blow through the sequestration caps and raise spending by about 6.4 percent.
The Republican-controlled Congress has approved a $3.87 trillion budget that would balance federal spending over the next decade and slash $5 trillion in social, education and health care programs.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the government is “being starved” by the cuts and that more money must be spent, particularly on security agencies that defend the homeland.
Mr. Reid also said that means boosting funding for the IRS.
“We did not have enough personnel to even answer the phones. Is that what we want? Do we want people who call IRS not to be able to answer the phone?” he said.
In a letter Tuesday night, Mr. Donovan defended Mr. Obama’s request for an extra $2 billion for the IRS over last year’s budget and nearly $3 billion more than Republicans plan to spend. He said the agency cannot stand more “drastic cuts,” which he said would mean the IRS would collect $12 billion less next year than it did in 2010 because it has fewer agents to enforce the law.
“To put that number in context, $12 billion is more than the entire cost of the Head Start program for a year, or more than enough to fund the entire operating budgets for the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, combined,” he wrote.
Mr. Obama has issued a spate of veto threats this week, including one on the House version of the annual intelligence community policy bill, legislation to repeal one of Obamacare’s taxes and a bill to cancel a Medicare payments board.
Republicans question whether Mr. Obama would follow through on his threats to veto the spending bills, saying he would look bad if he is insisting on blocking money for troops in order to demand more money for the Environmental Protection Agency and the IRS.