Congress has returned from a five-week summer recess that included two party conventions, countless campaign stops and stump speeches, and time in home districts for senators and representatives.
But apparently not prominent on the recess agenda were behind-the-scenes discussions and negotiations on fast-approaching automatic, across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration, that are projected to hollow the armed forces, put more than a million people out of work, and some say threaten to plunge parts of the country back into recession.
Even worse news came last week when Moody???s Investors Service declared the U.S. was headed for another credit downgrade if legislators could not find common ground and develop policies ???that produce a stabilization and then downward trend in the ratio of federal debt to GDP over the medium term.??? Among issues standing in the way of such agreement are the soon-to-expire Bush tax cuts and the $1 trillion of sequester cuts to be taken from both defense and domestic spending.
But after a year of deadlock on sequestration, a viable alternative seems further away than ever. ???There???s no political will for doing anything before the election, which is incredibly bad,??? said Dan Stohr, a spokesman for the Aerospace Industries Association, which has spearheaded significant research on the devastating effects of sequestration. ???The notion that there???s something going to be done with this in the (post-election) lame duck session is almost, but not quite, laughable.???
While Stohr said AIA is continuing its messaging campaign and will stage a membership ???March to the Hill??? on September 19, during National Aerospace Week, in hopes of holding hundreds of meetings with legislative staffers on the topic, the lack of willingness to compromise on finding a way around the cuts makes him doubtful that meaningful progress will be made.
Democrats giving up
Worse, there are increasing indications that one party is giving up. The recently released 2012 Democratic platform ignores warnings about the effects of sequestration on defense and the economy and treats the cuts???which were intended not as actual policy, but as an ultimatum forcing compromise and real reform???as a necessity.
???In our current fiscal environment, we must also make tough budgetary decisions across the board???and that includes within the defense budget,??? it reads. This statement appears to discredit the president???s support not only of a strong U.S. military but also of pet programs like Head Start, which is due to lose $650 million and 75,000 slots for children under sequestration.
A Republican staffer with the House Armed Services Committee said newly released books by Politico???s Glenn Thrush and journalist Bob Woodward reveal inside dealings and conversations that confirm suspicions that the impetus for these cuts began in the White House. ???I think you???re seeing more and more indication that this was the president???s plan all along,??? the staffer said.
So far, Republican alternatives to sequestration that take cuts in entitlement spending or narrow the federal workforce by attrition instead of cutting the military have passed the House, but stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate. A new bill, brought to the floor by Rep. Allen West (Fla.) last week, would require Obama to produce his own sequester alternative plan, challenging the president on his own claims.
???The president said last week he wants ???the strongest military the world has ever known.??? The National Security and Jobs Protection Act will not only ensure we continue to have a strong armed forces, it will show the American people their elected leaders are fully capable of working together to solve the problems facing their nation,??? West said in a statement.
West???s bill would require Obama to put his own plan in writing by Oct. 15, less than a month before the election and two-and-a-half months before the sequester becomes reality.