White House hands Republicans sequestration estimates, and little else

Responding to Congressional wishes – and a recent law forcing the administration’s hand –the White House delivered a detailed 394-page estimate for how sequestration would cut federal spending across the government. Defense spending would be cut by $54.7 billion in fiscal 2013, though the White House long ago declared many operational and war accounts exempt. ...

By , a former staff writer at Foreign Policy.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Responding to Congressional wishes - and a recent law forcing the administration's hand --the White House delivered a detailed 394-page estimate for how sequestration would cut federal spending across the government.

Responding to Congressional wishes – and a recent law forcing the administration’s hand –the White House delivered a detailed 394-page estimate for how sequestration would cut federal spending across the government.

Defense spending would be cut by $54.7 billion in fiscal 2013, though the White House long ago declared many operational and war accounts exempt. The law would require, according to the Office of Management and Budget, a 9.4 percent cut to non-exempted defense discretionary spending, and 10 percent to defense mandatory funds.

Beyond that there is nothing new. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last November in a letter to Congress laid out how automatic cuts to some Pentagon accounts could require such drastic measures as eliminating one of the three legs of the nuclear triad: submarines, bombers or interocontinental ballistic missiles. 

Two administration officials on a Friday conference call spoke of how awful sequestration would be but refused to speak on the record, so the E-Ring will decline to print their quotes. But the report said:

"While the Department of Defense would be able to shift funds to ensure war fighting 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."

More important here than the budget number, however, was how the pressure built for the White House to even count them up in the first place — and how the administration diffused it. Since last year, member of Congress, particularly conservatives, have begged President Obama to come negotiate with them on Capitol Hill personally. But the White House refused to take that bait, demanding that Congress do their work, pass a negotiated balanced budget for deficit spending, and send it down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Oval Office for the president’s signature.

Instead of negotiating with Congressional Democrats, who basically have played stonewall in the Senate, Republicans passed the budget of Rep Paul Ryan, R-Wi., now the GOP vice presidential candidate, in the GOP-controlled House. That budget is a dead-on-arrival proposal, but they passed something and sought credit for doing at least that.

Since then, Republicans have demanded Democrats – and the White House — negotiate with the Ryan budget. Again, the White House refused. So has the Senate, infuriating Ryan’s allies.

Meanwhile, national security conservatives long ago hoped that by forcing Obama to reveal how much each federal account would be cut by sequestration come January, they could use it against him — because whether spending taxpayer money on national security or pork, the goal was to make Obama play defense.

Obama finally signed the bill forcing this report. Then the White House waited to bury it late on a Friday — days after the deadline in the bill. One of the administration officials on the call said it just took them this long to get if finished.

We’ll just have to wait and see if this episode moves any needles in any direction on budget negotiations.

By the way, what was the administration doing at the exact time of the White House conference call for reporters to talk about their sequestration report? Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were at Joint Base Andrews attending the arrival ceremony for the bodies of Amb. Chris Stevens and three other victims of the Benghazi attack.

Kevin Baron is a former staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @FPBaron

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