Uniforms or battleships? Amendment forces OMB to define defense cuts
Included in the dozens of amendments that passed with the Senate farm bill on Thursday was a measure that would require the Office of Management and Budget to report, for the first time, exactly what how much money next year’s sequester mechanism would chop, and from which programs.
While the House Armed Services Committee and non-government organizations such as the Center for Security Policy and Aerospace Industries Association have all published copious reports illustrating the straits the Defense Department would be in if the $500 billion in scheduled cuts were distributed equally across appropriations sectors like manpower and procurement, the truth is that OMB will have significant purview in determining where the cuts are taken. To date, the office has not answered repeated requests by Congress to spell out the magic formula, releasing occasional scraps of information instead.
In April, Human Events reported that the office had opted to exempt the Department of Veterans Affairs from the budget axe. Earlier this month, OMB announced that Overseas Contingency Operations–the ongoing war effort–would not be exempted, meaning that other departments will have to dig deeper to pay for the war.
The farm bill amendment, a joint endeavor by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that passed by a voice vote, would require the Defense Department to release a report by Aug. 15 on the impact of sequestration, and OMB and the White House to release reports within 30 and 60 days of the farm bill’s passage, respectively, on all Budget Control Act spending cuts to be implemented on the first of next year, totaling $1 trillion in defense and domestic spending.
“Only when the American people have a clear picture of the dangerous, reckless nature of these cuts will we be able to move forward together to consider alternatives that will not imperil our nation’s security and economy,” McCain said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to act on this information, and to do so before the lame duck session.”
President Obama has made clear he does not support congressional efforts to learn more about the workings of sequestration, urging them instead to pass alternative legislation to raise taxes and reduce deficits, rather than determine the true effects of the mechanism already in place.
“Should it get to a point where it appears that Congress will not do its job and the sequester may take effect, let me assure you that OMB, DoD, and the entire Administration will be prepared,” OMB acting director Jeffrey Zients wrote to the heads of the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence committees on June 15.
According to a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), authored a similar amendment regarding studies on sequestration, many lawmakers feel they cannot come to compromise agreements on spending levels and appropriations without knowing specifically what sequestration would cut and how. While the timeline for the release of the new sequestration studies would deliver the information to Congress just before the November lame duck session, he said Sessions’ goal was to get answers and take action as soon as possible.
If anyone was kicking the can down the road on sequestration, the spokesman told Human Events, it was the White House.