clear
Thursday May 28th, 2015 12:04AM

GOP lawmakers see automatic cuts as leverage

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Driven by frustration over deficits and debt, Republican conservatives are pushing a politically risky move to permit painfully large automatic spending cuts to strike the Pentagon and domestic programs alike in an effort to force Democrats into making concessions on the budget.

It's a turnabout from last year, when GOP leaders were among the loudest voices warning of dire consequences for the military and the economy if more than $100 billion worth of across-the-board cuts were allowed to take effect. Now, even as defense hawks fume, Republicans see the strategy as their best chance of wringing cuts from costly government benefit programs like Medicare that President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies have been reluctant to touch.

The move is fraught with risk. Some $43 billion would be cut from the Pentagon budget between March and October if battling Democrats and Republicans can't agree on an alternative. Equal cuts would hit domestic programs, although the health care programs that are major drivers of future deficits are largely exempt.

"In terms of the political dynamic here, defense spending is only 20 percent of the federal budget, but it's taking 50 percent of the cuts, which means it's going to be hitting the Republicans a lot harder than the Democrats," said defense analyst Loren Thompson. "Most of the nation's big military bases and many of its defense factories are located in Republican strongholds like the South, so Republicans are hurting themselves more than the Democrats by insisting on going forward with sequestration."

The automatic cuts, known as a "sequester" in Washington-speak, are the penalty for the failures of the 2011 deficit "supercommittee" and subsequent rounds of budget talks to produce an agreement.

Along with the threatened expiration of Bush-era tax cuts, the sequester was a major element of the so-called fiscal cliff crisis that gripped the country as the new year dawned. While most of the tax cuts - except for upper-bracket income - were made permanent, negotiators could only agree on a two-month reprieve to the sequester after finding $24 billion in replacement money that reduced this year's round of cuts from $109 billion to $85 billion. Eight more years of cuts, totaling almost $1 trillion, still remain.

The austerity, economists say, would slow down the economy. Under a formula by the Congressional Budget Office, a $43 billion cut in defense spending could cost 300,000 jobs this year.

On Wednesday, the government reported that the economy shrank by 0.1 percent in the last quarter of 2012 and said a slowdown in defense spending and uncertainty over the automatic spending cuts could have kicked in at the start of the year.

Last year, Republicans issued dire warnings of the impact the cuts would have. Defense hawks like Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., made campaign tours in political swing states like Virginia and Florida lambasting the cuts, warning that the reductions would hollow out the Pentagon and cost many thousands of jobs. They reminded voters that the sequester was an idea developed by Democrats during 2011 negotiations on increasing the government's borrowing cap.

"The White House is responsible for the `sequester' that threatens our national security," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in September. "History has taught us we can't continue with policies that jeopardize our defenses or weaken our economy."

So twice last year, House Republicans passed legislation to replace this year's round of cuts with alternatives like curbing the growth of food stamps and requiring federal workers to contribute more to their pensions.

Democrats instead put their faith in year-end, high-level budget talks involving President Barack Obama and Boehner, but those talks failed. Later, successful negotiations between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., solved the tax issue but produced only the two-month fix for the sequester.

This year's GOP move to embrace the sequester was hatched at a recent strategy retreat for House Republicans in Williamsburg, Va. Much of the retreat was devoted to coming up with a way to solve a more urgent issue: finding a way to get the tea party-infused House to again increase the debt limit and prevent an economically devastating first-ever default on U.S. obligations. The party agreed on a strategy to punt the debt dilemma until May or later and instead use the sequester as leverage in the budget debate.

A senior House GOP aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss party strategy, said some Republicans see the sequester as their best opportunity to achieve spending cuts. That strategy, however, is rife with potential to split open the Republican Party and pits the defense hawks against the tea party.

"The world is blowing up. I can't imagine a more devastating signal to send to the Iranians and our enemies and our friends alike than to dismantle the military," Graham said. "In a body that's known for doing pretty dumb things, this to me wins the prize."

Such concerns, however, have been overruled by Republicans frustrated by a recent loss to Obama on the issue of higher tax rates and a $60 billion disaster aid bill to address Superstorm Sandy. The reality of the political firestorm that is sure to hit if the sequester kicks in doesn't seem to be a concern.

"These are the only cuts that we've been able to get from the president, and absent any other negotiations, I understand those who say, `We're loath to give that up unless we come up with some substitute,'" said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "It's bad policy, there's no question about it. But the president could be part of the solution, and right now he's AWOL."

How people would actually react should the across-the-board cuts hit is anyone's guess. But it's not lost on anyone with institutional history that Republicans got creamed in a similar situation in 1995-96 when they sparked a partial government shutdown under the leadership of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

"I'm just flabbergasted," said Scott Lilly, who was the top Democratic staffer on the House Appropriations Committee during the Gingrich shutdown. "The way they've played it, they're going to get a huge part of the blame because they're just openly accepting" the sequester.

With Pentagon uniformed military salaries exempt, the cuts to the rest of the agency are more severe, with big impacts on defense contractors and civilian Pentagon workers.

"I just don't think there's any appetite at this point in the Republican conference to `fix' the sequester," said GOP lobbyist Jack Howard. "You have to wait until it actually hits, I think. And then we'll see."

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the warring parties should try to figure it all out, but he set up a clash with Republicans over using new taxes to fix the problem.

Reid said the sequester cuts should be replaced "in short increments" with spending cuts and revenues like repealing oil and gas subsidies, which were discussed in earlier negotiations.

"There are many low-hanging pieces of fruit out there that Republicans have said they agreed on previously," Reid said. There's a lot of things we can do out there, and we're going to make an effort to make sure that there is - sequestration is - involves revenue."
© Copyright 2015 AccessNorthGa.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Amtrak to suspend some Crescent service in Jan., Feb.
Amtrak service will shut down in parts of the Southeast for several days in January and February for rail maintenance by Norfolk Southern Railway.
9:00AM ( 1 year ago )
Lung cancer scans urged for some smokers, not all
Certain current or former heavy smokers should start getting yearly scans for lung cancer to cut their risk of death from the nation's top cancer killer, government advisers said Monday - even as they stressed that the tests aren't for everyone.
7:26AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 1 year ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 1 year ago )
Victim critical following apartment fire
A 41-year-old woman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being rescued from an apartment fire in Forsyth County late Monday afternoon.
3:16PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 1 year ago )
NSA reportedly intercepts computer deliveries
A German magazine has lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency's hacker unit, revealing how American spies intercepted computer deliveries, exploited hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijacked Microsoft's bug report system to spy on their targets.
12:31PM ( 1 year ago )
Rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel
Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries.
12:26PM ( 1 year ago )
Politics
Homeowners clean up in Texas; death toll climbs to 21
HOUSTON (AP) — Homeowners dragged soggy carpet to the curb and mopped up coffee-colored muck Wednesday after a barrage of storms and floods in Texas and Oklahoma left at least 21 people dead and 11 ot...
11:09PM ( 55 minutes ago )
US rejects nuclear disarmament document over Israel concerns
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States on Friday blocked a global document aimed at ridding the world of nuclear weapons, saying Egypt and other states tried to "cynically manipulate" the process by...
9:33PM ( 5 days ago )
Obama again avoids calling 1915 Armenian killings 'genocide'
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to ful...
1:00PM ( 1 month ago )
Ex-NFL star Hernandez convicted of murder, sentenced to life
FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for a deadly late-night shooting, sealing the d...
8:54PM ( 1 month ago )
Clinton kicks off 2016 campaign online, heads next to Iowa
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton jumped back into presidential politics on Sunday, making a much-awaited announcement she will again seek the White House with a promise to serve as the "champi...
7:56PM ( 1 month ago )