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White House warns of 'deeply destructive' budget cuts

September 14, 2012|By Kathleen Hennessey
  • President Barack Obama walks on the South Lawn of the White House.
President Barack Obama walks on the South Lawn of the White House. (Pablo Martinez / Associated…)

WASHINGTON -- Budget cuts set to hit federal agencies next year would be “deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments, and core government functions,” the Obama administration said in a report released Friday outlining the impact of a law Congress passed and President Obama signed last year.

The report details how the $110 billion in annual cuts would be spread out across 1,200 government programs -- trimming military spending by roughly 9% and domestic spending, such as education, environmental cleanup, welfare services and border security, by 8%.

The 2011 budget deal ordered the cuts if a “super committee” of lawmakers failed to land a deal to cut $4 trillion from the budget over 10 years. The committee failed, leaving the across-the-board cuts as an incentive for another attempt at compromise before the end of the year.

But so far the budget cuts have only become a bludgeon for attack on the campaign trail.

Democrats have pointed to the looming threat as a direct result of Republicans’ refusal to raise taxes to lower the deficit. Republicans have accused the president and his party of threatening the nation’s military might.

Friday’s report was largely another chess move in the game. Hoping to pile on the political pressure, Republicans pushed for a provision ordering the Obama administration to produce the report, which was billed as an attempt to improve transparency and begin planning for cuts.

The Obama administration reluctantly agreed, although its disdain for the exercise came through in the final product. The nearly 400-page report is little more than a restatement of the president’s position and a series of lists of numbers. The law orders that the cuts be proportional, hitting nearly all programs equally, and leaves the administration with little discretion on what is exempted. The Obama administration report simply does the math – listing the current level of funding and the estimated amount that would be cut. It offers no new description of potential job losses or reduction in services.

It also arrived a week past the deadline. Administration officials said they were tardy because of the considerable work required and acknowledged resistance to “the idea that lots of energy and time would go into reporting or planning as opposed to avoiding” the cuts, a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Still, the report puts a finer point on what is coming if Congress doesn’t act.

Medicare payments to providers would be cut by 2%, or $11 billion, next year. More than $540 million would be cut from food stamps. Financial aid for college would be cut by $140 million. The National Institutes of Health would take a $2.5-billion cut. The report says embassy security, construction and maintenance would be cut by $129 million.

Social security, military personnel, Veteran’s Administration and Medicaid are exempt from cuts.

The roughly $55 billion in cuts to the Pentagon have been the focus of much of the debate in Washington. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta has warned against implementing the cuts. Defense contractors have threatened massive layoffs.

On Friday, Republicans repeated the warnings.

“This report confirms that the president’s ‘sequester’ is a serious threat to our national security and must be replaced,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Boehner urged the Obama administration and Hill Democrats to take up a series of replacement cuts passed by the House earlier this year.

U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) issued a joint statement saying: “With sequestration less than four months away, the President’s decision to ignore the specific intent of this law leaves Congress, the Department of Defense, defense suppliers, and the American people in the dark."

The report offers little new insight into the impact on defense, noted David Berteau, director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The America people need to be paying attention to the impact across the board. Will the FAA shut down air traffic control towers? Does this mean planes don’t fly?” he said.

“This report doesn’t answer that.”

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

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