WASHINGTON — The White House entered the sequestration fray Thursday, vowing to veto a GOP bill to give President Barack Obama the ability to pick and choose what gets cut.
In separate statements of administration policy, the White House detailed its opposition to the GOP legislation written by Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. The White House also said it “strongly supports” Senate Democrats’ sequestration bill, which would avoid the first year of the cuts.
Under the Inhofe-Toomey bill, the sequestration cuts would be triggered on Friday. But Obama would be required, by March 15, to submit a plan on how the executive branch would enact the twin $500 billion cuts to planned defense and domestic spending over the next decade.
The GOP bill would allow Congress to place that plan on a fast track if neither chamber objects by March 22. That would avert the March 27 deadline, at which point the sequester cuts would kick in.
Any defense cuts in the president’s plan would have to mesh with the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which already has been signed into law by Obama.
The White House opposes the Inhofe-Toomey approach because, it said, the bill would “protect tax loopholes for the wealthy and congressional pork barrel projects and would lock in severe cuts that threaten hundreds of thousands of middle class jobs and slash vital services for children, seniors, and our troops and military families.
“Rather than proposing a comprehensive solution to avoid the cuts and their harmful impacts to the economy, this bill would cancel $85.3 billion in budgetary resources in [fiscal] 2013 and purportedly provide the president with flexibility in executing the reductions,” the White House said. “There is no way to cut spending this dramatically over a seven-month period without drastically affecting national security and economic priorities. Moreover, [it] would explicitly protect pork barrel spending and, in so doing, would reduce the President’s ability to protect national security.”
Meantime, the White House issued another statement of administration policy endorsing a Senate Democratic leadership-crafted measure that would, in part, use defense cuts in the outyears of the current Pentagon budget plan to void the 2013 tranche of sequester cuts.
The Democratic measure, unveiled Feb. 14, would mandate $55 billion in additional spending cuts and $54 billion in new tax revenue. It builds on Obama’s and congressional Democrats’ preferred kind of package: a so-called “balanced approach” of cuts and revenues.
The Democratic bill would split its mandated cuts between national defense accounts and non-defense accounts. It would cut the Pentagon’s annual budget by $27.5 billion in the outyears, with an identical amount coming by terminating some agriculture subsidies. It would not reduce the DoD budget in 2013.
The White House said it “strongly supports” the Democratic bill because it calls for “balanced deficit reduction” and would “delay sequestration and provide the Congress with the time necessary to enact balanced deficit reduction that would put the nation on a more sustainable fiscal path.”
Pentagon officials, hawkish lawmakers and industry executives say the defense cuts would undermine national security and leave the industrial base weakened. Some analysts say because the cuts are spread over a decade, and because the DoD budget has ballooned in the last decade, sequestration would be more manageable than DoD officials are claiming.
The White House said the cuts would hurt the economy and “make the nation less safe abroad by causing critical degradations in the support for and readiness of the armed forces.”
The Senate is expected to begin voting on the bills at 2:30 p.m.; because neither appears to have 60 votes needed to end floor debate, both are expected to be voted down.
The House adjourned around midday Thursday, and is not slated to be in session Friday. That means the sequester cuts will go into effect March 27.