In every bill the U.S. Senate manages to pass in the coming weeks, lawmakers plan to include language that would require the White House and the Pentagon to divulge information on how the automatic cuts required under sequestration would be implemented, according to Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
The Senate’s farm bill, passed last week, included an amendment that calls on the Defense Department to release a report by Aug. 15 on the impact of defense sequestration.
“We plan on attaching that to everything that walks,” Ayotte said June 26 at an event hosted by TechAmerica, a technology trade association in Washington. She said similar language could be included in a federal flood insurance bill, which the Senate is expected to begin debate on soon.
The farm bill amendment calls on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to release a report within 30 days of the law’s passage, and the president to release a report within 60 days, on the impact of sequestration across defense and nondefense spending.
If Congress fails to act, automatic spending cuts mandated by last summer’s Budget Control Act are scheduled to begin Jan. 2. The process, known as sequestration, would cut roughly $500 billion from the Pentagon over the next 10 years, with an additional $500 billion coming from non-defense discretionary spending programs like education and transportation.
Gordon Adams, who oversaw national security budgets at OMB under President Bill Clinton, said there is not much left to learn about how sequestration would be implemented.
Funding for veterans programs would be excluded and the president likely would use his authority to exempt military pay.
While OMB has said that spending on Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) will be included, creating a larger base from which to cut, defense experts say that no administration is going to deny resources to troops serving in Afghanistan.
The only detail still up in the air is at what budget level the across-the-board cuts would be applied, Adams said. Going by historic precedent, the cuts would most likely target the program element level, which is the lowest budget-level possible and therefore provides the Pentagon the least flexibility.
Sequestration was designed to be painful because it is not meant to happen, Adams said. Instead, it is supposed to drive Republicans and Democrats to compromise on bigger fiscal issues such as taxes and entitlement reform.
“All of the answers to what might happen are already known and all of the answers to how you could solve the problem are already known,” Adams said.
“Congress is looking to keep the fire burning. I don’t think they expect to learn anything.”
For Ayotte, the push for more information is as much about raising awareness as about trying to plan for the spending cuts. Seeing the line-by-line details should serve as a wake-up call to Congress and the American public, she said.
Once they see how damaging sequestration would be for their districts and their states, especially during an election year, lawmakers may finally act to avert it, Ayotte said.