It is up to the House of Representatives to maintain the $85 billion sequester cuts set to go into effect on March 1.
Agreed to in August 2011 in exchange for the then $2.1 trillion increase in the debt ceiling, these were cuts promised to the American people and must be maintained no matter what. A deal’s a deal.
But so far, that is not happening. Originally $109 billion, these cuts have already been reduced to $85 billion as a part of the fiscal cliff agreement at the beginning of the year.
There may be some hope, however, that what remains will stay in place.
To get the votes to pass the recent 4-month suspension of the $16.394 trillion debt ceiling, House leadership had to promise members “to stand by the $974 billion discretionary number that is part of the sequestration process,” according to Jan. 18 press release from the Republican Study Committee.
So, the House may yet attempt to find offsetting cuts in place of the defense cuts, as it has tried in the past without reaching any agreement with the Senate.
But the fact is, Congress has failed to pay for unemployment benefits with offsetting cuts. It failed to pay for hurricane disaster relief with offsetting cuts.
And in point of fact, in the 112th Congress, when House Republicans attempted to offset the defense sequester, it relied on spending cuts in out years such that the deficit would have increased in 2013 by about $20 billion according to the CBO.
This sets up a situation wherein if House leaders were to sit down with Harry Reid to address sequester, the two likely outcomes appear to be either the elimination of the sequester cuts altogether, or Reid might insist on tax increases to replace the defense sequester.
It appears highly unlikely that negotiations on the sequester will produce a better outcome as it relates to the deficit.
As far the defense sequester goes, anyone who believes there is nothing to cut ought to take a close at Sen. Tom Coburn’s “Back in Black” proposal, which found $963 billion of cuts from the defense budget that could be made. These included removing duplicative services, eliminating non-defense spending included in the budget, restructuring health care at the Department of Defense (DoD), and adjusting personnel and certain weapons systems.
If the Pentagon chooses to cut active duty military or vital weapons systems but keeps, for example, $10 billion for elementary schools or fails to consolidate its worldwide grocery store chain that would save $9.1 billion, then we’ll know what the problem was: that the Obama Administration failed to prioritize the budget cuts.
Coburn found approximately $184 billion in potential health care savings alone at DoD that could be implemented. So, nobody should be able to say that there is nothing to cut, for there most certainly is. The House should insist that the Coburn plan be followed in implementing sequester, and then real security needs will face fewer cuts.
That said, promises were made. To keep them, the House need only do nothing, and the sequester cuts will go into effect. If it cannot produce a better deal with the Senate, then doing nothing is exactly what should happen.
Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.