White House misses deadline for defense cuts
Update: Mitt Romney responds: “A year ago, Barack Obama set in motion the sequestration process that is leading to imminent disastrous cuts in our military might. The President is required by law to tell the American people how he would implement these cuts. But he has chosen to ignore the deadline for doing so. The American people have had enough of evasion and enough of finger pointing. They just want answers. Secretary of Defense Panetta has said these cuts will be devastating to our national security and our economy. It’s time the President stops stonewalling, stops dismantling our military, and starts providing answers.”
Remember that farcical “budget ceiling deal” that got Obama his latest pile of deficit trillions to spend? You could be forgiven for forgetting it, especially since the Obama campaign desperately needs you to forget everything our tax-hungry, intransigent, petulant President did during the showdown, especially the parts where he stormed off in a huff and slammed doors.
The results of this deal included the equally farcical bipartisan “Super Committee,” much heralded at the time, but now as faded as the Obama poster on the wall of a 26-year-old unemployed child’s bedroom. The Super Committee was tasked with finding enough spending cuts to… well, not come anywhere near balancing the budget, actually, but at least make the deficit a bit less horrible.
That didn’t happen, so we ended up with a package of mandatory spending cuts called “sequestration,” affecting both military and civilian programs that were supposed to be equally unpleasant for both parties to contemplate. It’s time for the White House to specify those unpleasant cuts. Last month, President Obama signed a law called the Sequestration Transparency Act, which gave him a 30-day deadline to lay out Pentagon spending cuts.
The deadline was Friday, September 7. Nothing has been received from the White House. According to ABC News, the President’s press secretary we’ll get the cuts sometime next week.
This did not sit well with the author of the Sequestration Transparency Act, Senator John Thune (R-SD), who appears to be under the impression that “laws” are something Barack Obama must obey. “Americans of all stripes are required to play by the rules and follow the laws of the land,” said Thune. “Unfortunately, by disregarding the sequestration reporting deadline, the Obama Administration seems to think it is above the law. The American people deserve to know the president’s plan for implementing these cuts, some of which our military leaders have said will compromise our nation’s ability to protect itself. Every day that the administration delays being transparent with the American people on the sequester moves us one day closer to going over the fiscal cliff.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) wasn’t happy either. “House Republicans have already offered, and passed, a plan to protect our troops by replacing the ‘sequester’ with common-sense spending cuts and reforms,” said Boehner. “Now it’s time for President Obama to obey the law he signed and tell the American people how he plans to implement (or replace) these devastating cuts.”
Why did the White House blow off this deadline? It’s not news that Barack Obama thinks he’s above the law, but why provoke ire over completing a task that probably won’t be any easier, or more pleasant, with an extra week? Or a few extra weeks, if you’re not confident of the revised deadline promised today?
In part, it’s probably due to the awful jobs report today. Obama doesn’t want a critical mass of bad news in a single news cycle. His analysts knew this report was going to be bad, and the President himself most likely had the numbers last night – that’s one reason his speech to the DNC was so flat. This would not have been a good day to announce hundreds of thousands of layoffs.
Obama’s other challenge is the timing of the layoff notices. A 1988 law called the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires 60 days notice to the affected workers. As things stand, the job cuts would go into effect on January 2, 2013, so the layoff notices would begin appearing in mailboxes literally days before the November election. The Obama Administration has been desperately trying to find a way around this, going so far as deliberately misleading employers into thinking they’re not covered by the WARN Act and could help out the President’s re-election campaign by hanging onto those notices for a while. Any company foolish enough to believe this gambit from Obama’s Labor Secretary (who does not have the power to grant WARN Act waivers) would expose themselves to hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.
Fooling around with the Sequestration Transparency Act deadline could be part of a strategy to short-circuit this timetable and throw of the timing of the mass layoff notices. Or maybe Obama is planning a last-ditch effort to get around sequestration somehow. Perhaps he just wants a little more time on the campaign trail to build a case that Republicans should get the blame for the layoffs.
The bottom line is that Obama was legally compelled to do something today, and he didn’t do it. May his successor have more respect for the law.