Sequestration clock ticks down the final days

As the window narrows for government leaders to undo sequestration's automatic spending cuts, leaders are ramping up opposition to the measure and warning of the grave impact that the cuts would bring. But other groups are taking a different tack, suggesting that at least some of the cuts could be beneficial for the nation.

Obama speaking against sequester

President Obama, shown on Feb. 19 speaking against the sequester, warns that the 'meat-cleaver approach' could devaste the military and the economy. (AP photo)

As the window narrows for government leaders to undo sequestration's automatic spending cuts, leaders are ramping up opposition to the measure and warning of the grave impact that the cuts would bring. Meanwhile, other groups say it might not be such a bad idea.

On Feb. 19 President Barack Obama spoke out against sequestration, cautioning that the $1 trillion in federal spending cuts would deliver a serious blow to the U.S. economy, military readiness and national security.

"If Congress allows this meat-cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness; it will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research," Obama said. "It won't consider whether we're cutting some bloated program that has outlived its usefulness, or a vital service that Americans depend on every single day. It doesn't make those distinctions."

Obama's comments joined a chorus of forewarnings, particularly from Pentagon leaders who have sought to push Congress to act.

"Today, in my opinion, the greatest threat to our national security is the fiscal uncertainty resulting from the lack of predictability in the budget cycles," Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno said Feb. 15 in an appearance at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Our country's inability to put its fiscal house in order compromises the future of the joint force, the Army, and ultimately will impact our ability to provide security to our nation."

Odierno also warned that the looming fiscal threats could delay troops from being sent home from and redeployed to Afghanistan.

While most would agree sequestration's cuts will have a negative impact (with some debate ongoing about just how severe it would be), not everyone buys into the idea that the measure will be as disastrous for the military as some within the defense community are predicting.

"The cuts to social programs, public services and environmental protection will destroy more jobs than cuts to the Pentagon budget," Bill Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, said on a Feb. 19 conference call for the "Jobs Not Wars" campaign. "If we're concerned about jobs, we shouldn't let the Pentagon and its contractors fend off sensible reforms that can save taxpayers billions of dollars."

Michael Eisenscher, national coordinator of U.S. Labor Against the War, contended that much of the general public supports cuts to a "bloated" Defense Department budget.

"Pentagon spending proponents are out of step with the American people," Eisenscher said. "A majority of Americans support substantial cuts to the Pentagon budget in favor of priorities that ensure long-term security here and abroad: creating jobs, repairing the social safety net, rebuilding public infrastructure, providing support for veterans, addressing global warming and meeting other urgent social needs."

The government is just days away from a complicated, multi-faceted March showdown. Besides sequestration's March 1 launch date, the president is slated to release the 2014 federal budget sometime around March 15. That is roughly the same time members of Congress are expected to begin debating the 2014 budget in their respective chambers as well. In addition to that, the current continuing resolution is set to expire on March 27 – and will require congressional debate of its own, which likely will compete with budget deliberations.

"Under these circumstances, it's going to be harder than usual for Congress to figure out baselines, economic forecasts and all of the other basic information it needs not just to draft a budget resolution but to evaluate what’s being debated," Stan Collender, a budget expert at Qorvis Communications, wrote in his blog earlier this month. "All of this makes what happens in March impossible to predict."

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