White House supports Reid plan to turn off sequester

April 24, 2013

President Obama supports a new plan to simply the stop deep spending cuts known as sequestration for the next five months – without coming up with an alternative means to reduce the deficit.

 White House press secretary Jay Carney said  Wednesday that the administration supports the proposal by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to count budget savings generated by winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a way to replace the savings from sequestration.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“Leader Reid's proposal allows for the sequester to be turned off for a temporary period and in a way that does not hurt seniors, does not hurt the middle class, and does not hurt students,” Carney said. “And we support this effort to allow both sides to find a longer-term solution that replaces the sequester permanently in a balanced way so we can stop these harmful cuts that are hurting our economy and middle class families across the country.”

Sequestration is cutting $85 billion out of the budgets of defense and domestic programs through Sept. 30. Obama has said any replacement must involve a package of alternative, less harmful cuts and tax hikes on the wealthy. Despite months of effort, however, that argument has won few supporters among Republicans.

Reid’s proposal – now supported by the White House – would turn off the sequester through September. While both Republicans and Democrats have in the past counted war savings toward deficit reduction, many experts say it is a budget gimmick. The savings are automatic and the government is spending less in so-called “overseas contingency operations” because there is less of a need to spend money there.

 “This would be a temporary solution and we support it, but it does not deal … with the bigger problem, which is the need for Republicans to go along with the principle endorsed by the public, endorsed by bipartisan panels that we ought to reduce our deficit in a balanced way,” Carney said.

Carney added that the war savings are the result of decisions made by Obama.

“Those savings are the result of policy decisions made by President Obama. That is a fact,” he said. “It was his policy promise in 2008 to end the war in Iraq and to wind down and end the war in Afghanistan, and he is fulfilling those promises and there are policy results and financial savings -- cost savings that flow from those policy decisions.”

Republicans welcomed the move to accept a replacement to the sequester that doesn't involve tax hikes, but ridiculed the idea of using war savings as unserious.

The White House still maintains that a "balanced" package of alternative spending cuts and tax hikes are necessary in the long term -- though Carney wouldn't comment Wednesday when asked if an approach like the Reid proposal would be used for longer than this fiscal year.

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Sean Sullivan | April 24, 2013