WASHINGTON, Sept 14 (Reuters) - The White House presented a detailed breakdown Friday of $109 billion in across-the-board spending cuts scheduled for January, setting off a fresh blame game between the Obama administration and Republicans over responsibility for what both say is a preventable budgetary calamity.
The itemization of the so-called “sequestration” plan showed
potential pain all around: $11 billion out of the Medicare
healthcare program for the elderly, a $15.3 billion cut in
defense procurement accounts and hefty cuts to a Department of
Agriculture program that supports farm prices.
There was also a cut of $129 million from embassy security,
which would be particularly ill-timed in light of deadly attacks
on U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East, Africa and
Afghanistan by Islamic militants in recent days.
The list, in 394 pages, included millions slashed from
familiar programs such the National Institutes for Health, the
national parks, the Smithsonian and all the regulatory agencies.
It could generate new public concerns as the presidential and
congressional races enter the home stretch.
For example, the American Cancer Society issued a statement
saying the automatic cuts would result in 50,000 fewer
low-income and underinsured women being screened for cancer next
State and local government officials will read the fine
print carefully. For example, payments to issuers of Build
America Bonds, a financing tool created as part of the 2009
economic stimulus, will be cut by $255 million, according to the
document. The taxable municipal bonds are designed to help
finance capital projects.
The reductions, aimed at lowering U.S. budget deficits,
would result in a 9.4 percent cut in defense programs and an 8.2
percent reduction in an array of domestic government activities,
the White House budget office said.
The sequestration is the result of the failure of Congress
and the administration to agree to a long-term deficit reduction
DEFENSE INDUSTRY FIGHTING BACK
The broad percentages were no surprise. But until attached
to specific programs, the results were difficult for all but
skilled lobbyists and corporations to digest. The defense
industry mobilized months ago to fight the sequestration,
issuing its own studies about the impact.
But many other interest groups and voters have remained on
Congress can undo the cuts at any time but has shown no
signs of doing so. The two parties are expected to make another
attempt to replace the indiscriminate reductions after the
election on Nov. 6.
While adding that it was ready to work with Congress on a
replacement plan, the White House said it had done its part and
that it was time for lawmakers to do theirs.
“The only thing that has stood in the way (of a
deficit-cutting deal) has been the continued refusal of
Republicans in congress to accept a more balanced approach to
deficit reduction,” a senior administration official told
John Boehner, Speaker of the Republican-controlled House of
Representatives, responded in kind, referring to the slashing as
“the president’s sequester.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in a
statement that “President Obama invented the sequester,
President Obama signed the sequester, and President Obama has
failed to show any leadership to stop the sequester.”
The White House and the Congress, Democrats and Republicans,
including Romney’s vice-presidential running-mate Paul Ryan
agreed on the automatic, cutting exercise under a deal reached
in August, 2011. The cuts were meant to be so painful a prospect
they would force Democrats and Republicans to come to terms on a
deficit reduction package.
REPUBLICANS FOCUSED ON SECURITY
The cuts are part of the so-called “fiscal cliff” scenario
that economists say could throw the country into a new
recession. Expiring tax cuts – which if not renewed will take
billions out of American pocketbooks next year – are the other
side of the cliff.
Top Republicans have focused their criticism largely at the
defense reductions, using them in the campaign to accuse the
president of hurting national security.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the White
House report “makes it glaringly clear that those programs most
closely related to combat readiness of the (military) force will
be severely cut.”
“The president needs to provide the leadership to avoid
these reductions,” McConnell said.
McConnell’s statement only addressed concerns about military
cuts and did not mention reductions to other domestic programs
that would be carried out under the sequestration.
Boehner said the report “confirms that the president’s
sequester is a serious threat to our national security and must
be replaced,” he said. “With only a few months before they’re
scheduled to go into effect, President Obama and Senate
Democrats have taken no action whatsoever to avert these cuts.”
His comments come amid heightened tensions in the Middle
East that saw the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and
three other U.S. officials.
TAX INCREASES AT ISSUE
Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked over the issue of
whether the deficit reduction should rely entirely on spending
cuts, as Republicans favor, or whether it could include revenue
from raising taxes on wealthy Americans, as the president wants.
Republicans also object to any cuts to military spending.
The White House attacked Republicans in Congress for
offering only “unbalanced solutions” that it said were not
“realistic, fair or responsible ways” to avoid the $109 billion
This was in response to months of Republican claims that
they had approved an alternative in the House of Representatives
that the Democratic Senate has ignored.
The Republican alternative would cancel all of the military
spending cuts while mandating deep new reductions to domestic
programs, including social safety net activities that Democrats
want to protect.
A Defense Department spokesman said sequestration “would
have devastating effects on important defense and non-defense
“If sequestration is triggered, the Department would be
forced to cut $55 billion in 2013 in an across-the-board,
senseless manner and it’s clear that allowing these
indiscriminate cuts would be irresponsible,” said Acting
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs George Little.
Despite the White House offer to work with Congress on a
new plan, there is no expectation any such effort would get
underway until after the Nov. 6 presidential and congressional
The 394-page document, which was transmitted electronically
by the White House, goes line by line through federal agency
programs, applying the percentage cuts to achieve the $109
billion in savings.
Most of these programs already have come under the budget
knife in previous deficit-reduction laws.