The White House unveiled a report on potential “sequestration” budget cuts last Friday that says Pentagon accounts would be slashed by 9.4 percent but offers no details on how specific defense programs would be impacted.
Republicans blasted the anxiously-awaited report, saying it doesn’t comply with the Sequestration Transparency Act. Congress passed that act last month, requiring Obama to provide more details on how the politically unpopular cuts would be implemented.
The sequestration cuts are the $1.2 trillion in longterm government spending reductions--$500 billion of which would come from planned Pentagon spending--brought about by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The budget law already cut $487 billion from decade-long defense spending plans.
“Bottom line--the administration failed to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law,” House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement last Friday about the White House’s sequestration report. The 394-page document, which was a week late, reveals “a shocking lack of planning” by the White House, he alleged.
“America’s military leaders needed eight months to adjust our military posture in response to the president’s direction to cut over $400 billion from defense,” the HASC chairman said. “With just over three months until a second half-trillion dollars in cuts are imposed, no proposal from the president to avert them, and no predictability on how (the White House’s Office of Management and Budget) OMB will apply the cuts--the commander in chief appears to be willing to leave the military without either resources or strategy.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.), along with panel members Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), faulted the White House report for not providing details on how the cuts would apply to Pentagon programs, projects and activates (PPAs).
“The report claims that more time is needed to provide these necessary details--but that is principally because the administration has deliberately refused to plan for sequestration for an entire year,” the three senators said in a statement.
“We call on the president--as commander in chief--to lead an immediate bipartisan effort to agree on an alternative to sequestration and prevent a crisis that Secretary of Defense (Leon) Panetta has said will ‘inflict severe damage to our national defense for generations,’” they said.
Obama has called on lawmakers to agree on an alternate plan to prevent the across-the-board cuts from starting next January, saying Democrats should allow more cuts and Republicans should permit new revenues, though the two parties remain at odds.
White House officials reminded reporters last Friday that Obama does not want the cuts to be implemented. They said they hope the sequestration report will help convince Republicans to agree to allow new revenues in an alternate plan to sequestration.
“We believe it’s time for Congress to act and pass balanced deficit reduction that avoids the sequester, and the administration is ready to work with Congress to get the job done,” a senior administration official said.
The White House report warns of harm to the military that would result if Congress cannot agree on a sequestration-replacement package.
“While the Department of Defense would be able to shift funds to ensure warfighting and critical military readiness capabilities were not degraded, sequestration would result in a reduction in readiness of many non-deployed units, delays in investments in new equipment and facilities, cutbacks in equipment repairs, declines in military research and development efforts, and reductions in base services for military families,” it says.
The White House report estimates that sequestration would result in a 9.4 percent cut in non-exempt defense discretionary funding, and an 8.2 percent cut in non-exempt non-defense discretionary monies.
Yet the report does not list all of the Pentagon PPAs that would be cut across-the-board under sequestration. Instead, the report only lists broader defense accounts subject to the 9.4 percent cut—such as “Shipbuilding and Conversion, Navy,” “Procurement of Weapons and Tracked Combat Vehicles, Army,” and “Aircraft Procurement, Air Force.”
HASC staff told reporters last Friday they still expect the sequestration cuts to target the more-granular PPAs.
The White House document acknowledges it does not provide all the PPA information for federal agencies.
“The (Sequestration Transparency Act) STA...included a requirement to show reductions for each account at the program, project, and activity (PPA) level,” the report says. “(B)ecause of the STA’s reporting deadline of just 30 days, the large number of PPAs across all agencies and budget accounts, and inconsistencies in the way PPAs are defined, additional time is necessary to identify, review, and resolve issues associated with providing information at this level of detail.”
The report cites a law dictating how the sequestration cuts are applied, which says: “Except as otherwise provided, the same percentage sequestration shall apply to all programs, projects, and activities within a budget account (with programs, projects, and activities as delineated in the appropriation act or accompanying report for the relevant fiscal year covering that account, or for accounts not included in appropriation acts, as delineated in the most recently submitted president’s budget).”
The White House adds: “Thus, each budget account must be analyzed separately to determine its component PPAs. For discretionary spending, the inquiry requires agencies to conduct a detailed analysis of their appropriation act(s) for the relevant fiscal year and, if applicable, any legislative report accompanying that act.”
The figures in the White House report are preliminary, and are estimates based on FY ’12 budget appropriation levels--not the amounts in the temporary continuing resolution for the FY ’13 budget that is moving through Congress, a senior administration official said.
“If sequestration were to occur, the actual results--the percentages--would differ based on changes in the law and ongoing legal, budgetary, and technical analysis,” the official told reporters. “And OMB as necessary will continue to work through those issues.”