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TO PREVENT SEQUESTRATION
After three months of behind-the-scenes meetings and a handful
of public hearings, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduc-
tion (JSCDR) failed to approve legislation to cut the federal
deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade.
On Nov. 21, 2011, the "supercommittee" co-chairs, Sen. Patty
Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), issued a press
release to announce the JSCDR's inability to fulfill its mandate by
the Nov. 23 deadline. The statement opened with the bottom line:
"After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have
come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make
any bipartisan agreement ... before the committee's deadline."
President Barack Obama quickly held a press conference at the
White House and warned that he would veto any congressional
attempt to repeal sequestration, the automatic cut of $600 billion
from national security programs and $600 billion from non-
security discretionary spending programs from FY13 to FY23.
"My message to them [Congress] is simple," said Obama: "No."
The President urged Congress to pick up where the JSCDR left
off and approve a deficit reduction package of spending cuts,
revenue increases, and entitlement reform. "The only way these
spending cuts won't take place is if Congress gets back to work,"
The $600 billion in cuts to security programs are a current
hot-button issue on Capitol Hill, and a significant bloc of Pen-
tagon supporters in Congress is pushing hard to repeal that half
of sequestration. House Armed Services Committee (HASC)
Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) quickly vowed to introduce
legislation to undo the security cuts despite the President's veto
threat. "I will not be the Armed Services chairman who presides
over crippling our military," McKeon said. "I will not let these
sequestration cuts stand."
On the Senate side, Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC)
members John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
issued a joint statement to reiterate their support for repealing
sequestration. "We are now working on a plan to minimize the
impact of the sequester on the Department of Defense and to
ensure that any cuts do not leave us with a hollow military," they
said. "The first responsibility of any government is to provide for
the common defense; we will pursue all options to make certain
that we continue to fulfill that solemn commitment."
SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) came out in opposition to
McCain and Graham's efforts and seconded the President's call
for a broader deficit reduction bill. "The idea of sequestration
was to increase the pressure on all sides to compromise," Levin
said. "We must now deal with the sequester as a whole, by doing
what the Joint Select Committee has been unable to do: Create a
balanced deficit reduction package that includes revenue as well
as spending reductions and avoids unacceptable cuts to educa-
tion, health care, defense, and other vital programs."
It is unclear exactly how DoD will administer the sequestra-
tion cuts. A HASC fact sheet titled "What Sequestration Really
Means" claims that "over 95 percent of the budget authority"
identified as "security spending" falls under DoD control, there-
fore making the Pentagon responsible for absorbing 95 percent
of the $600 billion cut to security spending. This would result in
a $570 billion cut to the DoD budget over the next decade. Oth-
ers have argued that the "security spending" category includes
the entire $57 billion U.S. Department of Homeland Security
budget, as well as a number of programs under the purview of
the U.S. Department of State.
On Nov. 14, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta sent a letter
to JSCDR members outlining some of the budgetary conse-
quences of sequestration. Panetta identified programs to build
new long-range bomber airplanes, submarines, and ballistic mis-
siles as likely victims of the budget cuts, and called on Congress
to amend the Budget Control Act of 2011 to give DoD greater
control over making budget cuts. "Current law does not pro-
vide flexibility," Panetta claimed in the letter. "It dictates that
"The only way these spending
cuts won't take place is if
Congress gets back to work."
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