Sequestration hearing unravels into partisan 'food fight'

Congress on Aug. 1 convened yet another hearing examining the potential implications of the sweeping budget cuts headed for Washington, but in this case unusually partisan comments from a White House official sparked fierce debate over who’s to blame for sequestration.

In a House Armed Services Committee hearing that stretched nearly three hours, lawmakers clashed with Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients after Zients blamed Congress for the potentially disastrous fallout looming ahead once sequestration takes effect. Close to an hour and a half of the hearing involved near-unintelligible shouting matches, mainly between Zients and Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio).

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

“What is holding up now is the Republican refusal to have the wealthiest 2 percent pay their fair share,” Zients said.

The hearing, in which Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter also appeared, was slated to discuss planning – or lack thereof – of how sequestration may be implemented if and when the $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts to federal spending are enacted in January. In the end, little was said to address that issue specifically, with both Zients and Carter saying that because opportunities exist to reverse the cuts, it’s too early for detailed planning.

“We don’t want to begin taking actions now to tear ourselves to pieces to prepare for something that’s really stupid,” Carter said.

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Zients warned that if sequestration does go into effect, its occurrence in the middle of the fiscal year could mean that cuts estimated at 10 percent for the Defense Department and 8 percent for the rest of the government could end up being as high as 14 percent.

“Sequestration is a blunt, indiscriminate instrument designed to force congressional action on achieving a balanced deficit reduction plan,” Zients noted in his testimony. “It is not the responsible way for our nation to achieve deficit reduction.”

The bickering went well beyond just sequestration, with arguments ensuing over tax rates, President Obama’s 2013 budget and other unrelated issues.

At the end, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) apologized to Zients and Carter for what he deemed to be a waste of their time.

"I'm sorry that we dragged you from your governing responsibilities into this spectacle," Johnson said.

In an e-mail statement issued shortly after the hearing, Gordon Adams, American University School of International Service professor and former senior White House official for national security budgets, derided the morning’s turn of events.

“Today’s HASC hearing on sequester became the predictable political theater its organizers intended: a partisan food fight over what would happen and who was responsible,” Gordon said. “Let there be no mistake: Sequester is not good planning or good budgeting. It is survivable, however, if the policy-makers are so determined to avoid agreement that they let it happen.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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Reader comments

Tue, Aug 7, 2012 Richard

@USAF "Modernize/advance US infrastructure". Remember in March of 2009 President Obama made this same claim if we'd just pass the $787B stimulus bill? At the time a spending bill this large was unheard of, but he promised "shovel ready projects" as well as modernizing our "crumbling" infrastructure. Well, where did the $787B go? And this is the best part, we the taxpayer will have to pay this back (this is why we have over a trillion dolar deficit, this and Obamacare). This was a Democrat bill. Only one or two Republicans voted for it. You have an excellent idea, but we already modernized our crumbling infrastructure with this massive Democrat spending bill signed into law in March 2009. Can't you see it all around you? When President Obama's mouth is moving, he's probably lying.

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 USAF Airforcebase

Recognize that so many people repeat what they see on television, but can't relate it to your own budget. Your budget is composed of a home, food, transportation, healthcare, and the nitnoid of miscellaneous expenses that support all the above. At a point where you've maxed all your credit cards and are considering bankruptcy, you have ultimately 2 choices: 1) File, or 2) a. make more money, b. spend less money. The gov't faces this basic fundamental analogy. We must find a way to do both 2a + 2b. As a gov't or corporation we've been finding ways to do #1 and still being allowed to pay large salaries for failures and most sick of all is to be allowed to borrow the next day more money through QE and issuance of new stock if your a "so-called" reinvented company (i.e. GM, AIG). This day should have marked the day when every American was given a free pass where all their bills/mortgages/loans were ZERO'd out. Much like "TO BIG TO FAIL" corporations who now make BBBBillions per QTR...yes per QTR. Suggestions: Modernize/advance U.S. it and they will come mentality (this does not mean bridges to nowhere). Reduce subsidies across the board, not just on energy, gov't handouts especially. We must make America hungry again, give them the tools not the will drive creativity, productivity, and capitalism which equals job creation

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 Henry

IF sequestration happens, it is simply because Congress failed to do its job starting last year. It was the special Committee that presented us with this ticking time bomb, and only Congress has the authority to prevent it from blowing us all up. We, the public, are being held hostage by our elected representatives - made to watch more of their petty temper tantrums. Where are the adults?

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 Paul Virginia

Sadly, even the sequestration amounts don't begin to address the problem, which is bigger than the entire discretionary budget. The only way out is to have both components on the table: tax increases, and program cuts. Both of these elements have been defined as 'toxic' by the parties because of the upcoming elections. The short term has won, yet again, over the long-term fiscal health of the nation.

Thu, Aug 2, 2012

You have to love it when Congress refuses to take responsibility for their own actions. It like listening to inmates. Everyone is innocent.

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