Sequestration clock ticks louder

Congress is running out of time to avert across-the-board budget cuts. When the House and Senate return from recess in September, lawmakers will only have until Jan. 2, 2013, to pass a spending bill that eliminates $1.2 trillion or more from the federal deficit. Otherwise, sequestration takes effect.

If the House Armed Services Committee hearing held Aug. 1 is any indication, the friction between Congress and the White House on the matter is intense. During the hearing, which lasted nearly three hours, lawmakers clashed with Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, after Zients blamed Congress for the potentially disastrous fallout from sequestration. Close to an hour and a half of the hearing involved nearly unintelligible shouting matches, mainly between Zients and Reps. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio).

In a particularly hostile exchange, Forbes pressed Zients on whether he believes “draconian defense cuts” are a sensible way to achieve agreement between the two political parties on Capitol Hill. Zients in turn directed the blame at Congress.

“What is holding us up right now is the Republican refusal to have the top 2 percent [of earners] pay their fair share,” Zients said.

Despite Republicans’ efforts to blame Democrats and vice versa, sequestration is a bipartisan problem. It is part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the same law that created the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Sequestration was meant to be a last-ditch measure if the so-called supercommittee members could not agree on $1.2 trillion of what would have been targeted and deliberately planned cuts over the next 10 years.

In a memo sent July 31, Zients sought to prepare agencies for the likelihood of sequestration and, at the same time, distance the Obama administration from responsibility for it. "The steps described above are necessary to prepare for the contingency of having to issue a sequestration order, but they do not change the fact that sequestration is bad policy, was never meant to be implemented and should be avoided through the enactment of bipartisan, balanced deficit legislation," Zients wrote. "The administration urges the Congress to take this course."

On Aug. 7, President Barack Obama signed the Sequestration Transparency Act, a law that requires OMB to explain by early September exactly what could be cut if Congress fails to prevent sequestration from taking effect.

“There is no amount of planning or reporting that will turn the sequester into anything other than the devastating cut in defense and domestic investments that it was meant to be,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said during a press briefing on July 26. “The sequester was passed by both Republicans and Democrats not as a policy we want to see enacted but as a forcing mechanism to get Congress to act in a serious, balanced way on deficit reduction.”

The new legislation also asks for a list of functions that are exempt from the cuts and “any other data and explanations that enhance public understanding of the sequester and actions to be taken under it.” And it directs leaders of federal agencies to consult with congressional appropriations committees and provide OMB with information “at the program, project and activity level.”

“While House Republicans remain committed to achieving the full spending reduction required by the Budget Control Act, we believe that we cannot solve our national debt crisis by deliberately permitting a national defense crisis, which is why we have a plan to replace those arbitrary cuts with other spending cuts and reforms," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), chairman of the House Republican Conference and co-author of the Sequestration Transparency Act.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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Reader comments

Tue, Sep 4, 2012

As tempting as a single sales tax appears to be, it still unfairly taxes the poor and middle class. Relative to their income, the rich spend less on basic necessities like food and housing. Most would find ways of getting around the tax, like purchasing directly from other countries, which would only make things worse for us since the money would be flowing out of the country. There are lots of reforms that need to be made but in the end, the rich need to pay their fair share for the safety and freedom they get from the government.

Fri, Aug 31, 2012

Lawmakers are not serious about balancing the budget, only in protecting their own selves. If they were serious, they would say I can cut this - what can you cut? Instead they fight about what the other should cut. Healing the national crisis starts from within ourselves. What are you willing to give up? I gave up calbe tv, I'meating out less and making sure lights are off. I raised the temperature in the house to cut back on expenses. I realized I can't borrow money to solve my debt issues. What in the world makes lawmakers think they can? Aparently, they have bought into the lie of the banks. Interesting, the banks got us into this mess and now the banks have convinced politicians that the only way out is to borrow more. Borrowing more is only in the banks interest 4%-29% or whatever. This isn't gonna get us out. The only way out is to reduce cost and increase revenue. Only by doing both are we going to get back on track. It amazes me how my high school education and middle class social status can see the answer and these upper class PHD/Law degree holding legislators can't. It's time to elect middle/low class citizens to office and then america will be stronger then it has ever been in history. Listen, to be fair to everyone both rich and poor - we need a flat across the board consumer tax (sales tax on all imported/domestic goods purchased in America at the federal level). The fact is FREEDOM isn't free. There is a cost be safe. If you want the safety that America gives its citizens then everyone must be willing to contribute fairly. The States in America have the right idea for sales tax. Everyone pays one federal tax. In Fact, let's call it the FREEDOM TAX and eliminate excise, gas, and every other unfair tax practice in favor of one. Then again, I'm just middle/low class - just like most of you. What do I know?

Fri, Aug 31, 2012

Bring it on! POTUS, Joint Chiefs, most of the Cabinet, and especially Congress, need severe repeated dope slaps. It'll hurt, and more than hurt for families living paycheck to paycheck, but DoD and rest of FedGov need to start acting like grownups, not teenagers with daddy's credit card. They have to learn the difference between Wants and Needs, and how to triage missions, and eliminate PR fluff that does not directly support mission.

Fri, Aug 31, 2012

“There is no amount of planning or reporting that will turn the sequester into anything other than the devastating cut in defense and domestic investments that it was meant to be,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said during a press briefing on July 26. “The sequester was passed by both Republicans and Democrats not as a policy we want to see enacted but as a forcing mechanism to get Congress to act in a serious, balanced way on deficit reduction.”
Given the amount of political polarization, running aginst a man instead of for an office, a divided electorate, and thinly veiled bigotry, (of allilks), we can expect 2 things: sequestrationb to occur or the the can will kicked down the road. We are in a conundrum wher supply-side structrual issues, past inequities, and the problem of fairness need to be balanced. It's the competing principlas of the tragedy of the commons inherent self-intrest, laissez-faire policies, (or an invisible hand with no moral or ethical compass, greed is good). We have met the enemy and it is us.

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