With the government’s self-imposed “sequestration” cuts looming, President Obama is trying to convince Congress to come up with a menu of short-term budget cuts that wouldn’t do as much harm as the $85 billion in cuts set for March 1.
The cuts actually total $1.2 trillion over the next decade. They are about evenly split between military and domestic programs — a mix Congress intentionally cobbled together a year ago to force the two sides to the negotiating table. But that tactic hasn’t worked — Democrats and Republicans are still bickering, with the deadline just three weeks away. The one thing that’s clear is the economy will suffer if the cuts are allowed to go through.
So if Congress can’t act immediately on a bigger package, then “I believe that they should at least pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would delay the economically damaging effects of the sequester for a few more months until Congress finds a way to replace these cuts with a smarter solution,” Obama said yesterday during a news conference.
“Congress is already working towards a budget that would permanently replace the sequester. At the very least, we should give them the chance to come up with this budget, instead of making indiscriminate cuts now that will cost us jobs and significantly slow down our recovery,” he said.
But Republicans quickly balked at the president’s suggestion. The huge military cuts were supposed to be incentive for the GOP to compromise, but at this point many Republicans seem willing to let the sequestration cuts go through if it means they don’t have to agree to any more tax hikes.
“The American people will not support more tax hikes in place of the meaningful spending reductions both parties already agreed to and the president signed into law,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “Now that Congress has acted on the tax issue, the president needs to lay out significant spending reforms — the other side of the ‘balance’ as he defines it,” he said.
Washington continues to find itself in these untenable budget situations because neither side is willing to give the other what it wants and they are reluctant to compromise. The president won the last two budget battles with Republicans, first getting Republicans to agree to raise taxes on Americans making more than $450,000 to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” that would have devastated American pocketbooks, then getting Republicans to agree to raise the debt ceiling without any corresponding budget cuts.
The Republican-controlled House last year sought its own measure to avoid sequestration — passing a bill that replaced the sequester cuts and shielded military spending by shifting the burden onto domestic programs, including many that serve the poor, such as Medicaid, food stamps and social services block grants that fund programs such as Meals on Wheels. But the Democratic-controlled Senate ignored that bill and it never came up for a Senate vote.
The Congressional Budget Office said that if the sequestration cuts go through on March 1, the budget deficit for fiscal 2013 will dip to $845 billion after four straight years of $1 trillion-plus deficits. The CBO report said the nation’s economy is being slowed by the deficit-cutting — providing fodder to liberal critics who claim that the obsessive focus on the deficit is misplaced at a time when the economy is so fragile.