As President Obama prepares to meet with leaders at the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago, Mitt Romney is out with a statement arguing that the Obama administration “has taken actions that will only undermine the alliance.”
One of the actions cited by Romney: the scheduled 10-year, $1.2 trillion across-the-board spending cut, or “sequester,” that was called for in last August’s bipartisan debt deal. The cut is expected to take effect in January; half of it will hit defense spending.
But Romney’s statement fails to note that the sequester was part of a deal negotiated by the White House and leaders of both parties, a sweeping proposal that was approved by nearly three-quarters of the House Republican conference and six in 10 Senate Republicans.
“Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has taken actions that will only undermine the alliance. The U.S. military is facing nearly $1 trillion in cuts over the next ten years. ... I will reverse Obama-era military cuts,” the Romney statement reads.
The facts point to a more complicated picture.
Congress has already had one opportunity to reverse those scheduled defense cuts – the bipartisan, 12-member “supercommittee” tasked with drafting a far-reaching debt reduction plan. The panel announced its failure to agree on a plan last November.
During the months when the supercommittee was meeting, the political battle over the sequester was already a fierce one, and, as we’ve noted, it was mainly Republicans who were raising the issue of the defense cuts.
That battle has since intensified. And, again, it’s Republicans seizing the offense on a proposal that was intended by Democrats in part to give their party leverage in pushing the GOP to include tax increases as part of a debt plan.
Romney has sought to place the blame for the sequester on Obama’s shoulders, and some GOP lawmakers have gone further. Earlier this month, in a CNN interview, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) compared the sequester to the 2009 stimulus package:
“Isn’t it Congress’s fault for putting us in this position?” host Carol Costello asked.
”Well, I don’t think so,” Forbes said. “I think, first of all, I didn’t vote for the sequestration bill. But the second thing is, most people in Washington realize the reason we got here is if you look at the stimulus bill that was $825 billion and $347 billion of interest that came from that, that’s an exact overlay of what we’re taking out of defense.”
He added: “What essentially happened is the administration spent this money in one year on a failed stimulus plan, and now, they are taking it out of defense over the next 10 years. We don’t think it’s right to balance that on the back of men and women in uniform, or on our veterans or even on the taxpayers of the United States.”
Forbes’s point is in line with the broader argument made by congressional Republicans that budget sequestration has become necessary after years of Democratic overspending.
But it fails to acknowledge that the defense sequester was part of a bipartisan plan. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) initially appeared to say that he would feel morally “bound” to abide by the defense cuts if the supercommittee were to fail. Boehner’s office later clarified that the speaker was referring to the $1.2 trillion in overall budget cuts.
Going forward, leaders on both sides acknowledge that to reverse the defense cuts, they need broader bipartisan agreement, likely after the election.
And as if to underscore the pickle that Congress finds itself in, the House approved a GOP proposal last week that would cancel some of the defense cuts by slashing funding for other federal programs, including Medicaid, food stamps and financial regulatory reform.
That proposal would reverse only the first year’s cuts in the 10-year defense sequester. The substitute cuts in the other programs would be made over a 10-year timeframe.