Originally agreed to in August 2011 in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion, sequestration was supposed to have accounted for $109 billion of average, annual cuts.
But then the first year of implementation was delayed by two months in the Jan. fiscal cliff deal, resulting in a $24 billion increase in budgeting authority that will affect outlays through 2017.
In 2013, however, sequester will only result in $53.8 billion of actual cuts in government outlays for the fiscal year — everything else comes later.
Just keeping those cuts in place is problematic amid intense lobbying by defense contractors and other agency special interest groups.
Now, there may actually be hope that what remains of those cuts will be allowed to take effect. Forbes.com columnist Ralph Benko calls attention to a Jan. 6 Wall Street Journal piece by Steve Moore that reports, “[House Speaker John] Boehner says he has significant Republican support, including GOP defense hawks, on his side for letting the sequester do its work.”
If true, that would mean that the American people might actually see some significant cuts to spending for a change, giving House Republicans who promised to reduce spending at least something they can say they accomplished.
At this stage, however, we remain cautiously hopeful.
$53.4 billion of new spending in January alone
The fact is, thanks to the fiscal cliff deal, spending is set to increase by $49.8 billion in 2013 according to the Congressional Budget Office — $22.3 billion of which was an extension of long-term unemployment benefits.
This also included $14.2 billion that was the result of the fiscal cliff cancellation of sequester cuts — the rest of the which will take effect through 2017.
When you add in another $3.6 billion in new spending occurring for hurricane disaster relief, in just a single month, Congress has already kicked out $53.4 billion of new spending, none of which was paid for with offsetting cuts. And that’s just for 2013.
Over the next ten years, both the fiscal cliff agreement and the Hurricane Sandy emergency funding will add approximately $381.5 billion in increased spending combined.
When you add it all up, little remains of the original, promised $1.057 trillion of sequester cuts over ten years that were included in the 2011 debt ceiling deal.
So, based on Congress and Obama’s recent record — it has already obliterated the $53.8 billion of savings we were supposed to see for 2013 — color us skeptical that what remains of sequestration even goes into effect.
We’ll believe it when it happens — and only then.
One item that stands out in the Benko and Moore pieces is that it appears it is the Obama Administration that is the most eager to do away with sequestration.
Moore reports House Speaker John Boehner as saying, “It wasn’t until literally [at the eleventh hour] that the White House brought up replacing the sequester. They said, ‘We can’t have the sequester.’ They were always counting on us to bring this to the table.”
Which is little wonder. While the White House might nominally favor slashing defense spending, it is concerned about the approximate $25 billion cut in general government spending that is also due to take effect March 1.
So what is Obama doing? Well, since nobody would give a flying whit about overpaid government bureaucrats being laid off, the Administration is using scare tactics — against active duty military personnel.
Specifically, the vice chiefs of the Army and Marine Corps are warning Congress that if sequestration is allowed to go into effect, 118,000 troops would be precipitously discharged through 2017. That includes 18,000 Marines, 50,000 Army regulars, and 50,000 Army National Guard troops.
This is nothing short of blackmail against active duty military and U.S. security interests. After all, it’s not as if there were no other things that could be cut out of the defense budget.
Why not cut the Pentagon’s global grocery store chain?
In a study that swept across all departments and agencies, Coburn found in defense for example $10 billion for elementary schools or the potential to consolidate its worldwide grocery store chain that would save $9.1 billion. These are non-defense items snuck into the defense budget. He found $184 billion in potential health care savings alone. There is plenty that could be cut without undermining national security.
To put a fine point on the importance of getting our fiscal house in order, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Admiral Michael Mullen called the debt, now $16.4 trillion, the number one threat to U.S. security. The obvious takeaway is that sequestration, and similar cuts, are in fact vital to our national security interests.
If left to responsible leaders at the Pentagon, it is likely that these cuts could be implemented without harming security — just by following parts of the Coburn blueprint.
Instead, the threat that sequestration might fall on vital security programs and active duty personnel is only because the Obama Administration has failed to prioritize the cuts to be made, despite having almost two years to prepare.
Sticking it to the troops
Nothing could be more cynical or dangerous. To prevent $25 billion of general government cuts, Obama is threatening to stick it to the men and women sworn to protect our country from danger. Perhaps he is bluffing.
But even if the cuts are implemented the way the Administration warns, the U.S. military will do what it has always done.
Service members will uphold their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. They will keep America safe. Which is more than we can say about their current Commander-in-Chief, who would rather play politics with our troops rather than confront the most serious threat to our security.
These threats against active duty members will be used to push House Republicans into backing away from the sequestration altogether, $53.8 billion of which is supposed to take effect in 2013. And since Congress has already increased spending by $53.4 billion this year alone, Republicans will need to hold the line just to break even.
Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Bill on Twitter at @BillWilsonALG.