WASHINGTON — Republicans unveiled a new attack Wednesday against President Barack Obama’s short-term sequester plan, accusing him of risking American lives with billions of dollars in proposed defense cuts.
“We’re done cutting meat, we’re into the bone,” said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “Where they would have to cut would reduce the ability to train and equip these people properly and it’s going to start costing lives.”
McKeon and a handful of Republicans from both chambers offered their own proposal at a news conference in the Capitol. Their plan would pay for all automatic budget cuts set for this fiscal year by gradually reducing the federal workforce over the next decade and freezing congressional pay.
Congress included a timetable for $1.2 trillion in budget cuts, known as sequestration, in an August 2011 agreement to raise the debt ceiling and deal with the nation’s growing annual deficit. The Republican plan unveiled Wednesday would forestall an $85 billion chunk of those cuts that would take effect in the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The across-the-board cuts over 10 years were never meant to actually go into effect. They were supposed to be so severe — hitting critical areas of the defense budget — that lawmakers would come together and tackle deficit reduction before the cuts kicked in.
“Our enemies would love this to happen,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., referring to automatic defense cuts. “I’m sure Iran is very supportive of sequestration.”
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, voiced his support of Republican alternative to across-the-board cuts. Also present were Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., as well as Reps. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and Mike Turner, R-Ohio.
In an apparent change of strategy, Obama announced Tuesday he favored a smaller package of spending reductions and tax reforms to delay the “self-inflicted wound” of sequestration.
Obama said a short-term deal would be better than no deal to prevent the sequester. Economic analysts agree that allowing the massive budget cuts to take effect would deter economic growth and possibly throw the U.S. into another recession.
“There is no reason that the jobs of thousands of Americans who work in national security or education or clean energy, not to mention the growth of the entire economy, should be put in jeopardy just because folks in Washington couldn’t come together,” Obama said.
The defense budget for 2013 totals more than $600 billion and would shrink by about $42.5 billion this year if the sequester goes into effect.
In a separate meeting with reporters, House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday he is not interested in the president’s plan for Congress to delay automatic budget cuts and pass a smaller package of cuts and revenues.
“At some point, Washington has to deal with its spending problem,” Boehner said, raising his voice. “I’ve watched them kick this can down the road for 22 years that I’ve been here and I’m tired of it. It’s time to act.”
Boehner, R-Ohio, said he was frustrated with what he sees as a lack of “adult leadership” from Obama and Senate Democrats regarding $1.2 trillion in budget cuts set to kick in March 1.
Throughout the fiscal debate, Obama and his Democratic allies have sought a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Republicans have demanded spending cuts and preferred closing tax loopholes as a way of trimming the federal deficit.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released Tuesday its latest deficit projections for the next decade. The deficit is the difference annually between government revenues and spending.
The CBO report found that the U.S. is on track this year to have its smallest budget deficit since 2008, pegged at $845 billion. Deficits will continue to decrease in the coming years, CBO predicts, and will shrink to 2.4 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product by 2015.
But there’s a catch. The CBO estimates assume that the sequestration takes place — trimming more than $1 trillion in spending.