The Washington Post

White House: Dire cuts for military, domestic programs as U.S. steps toward fiscal cliff

A new White House report paints dire consequences for virtually all areas of government operations, including the military, if Congress does not act to prevent deep, across-the-board spending cuts set to go into effect Jan. 2.

For the Pentagon, the reductions would mean delaying equipment purchases and repairs, trimming services for military families and compromising the readiness of units not actively deployed.

But the reductions — known in Washington-speak as “sequestration” — would also mean fewer FBI agents and federal prosecutors, a dramatic rollback in federal scientific research, curtailed food inspections and fewer air-traffic controllers.

Overall, the mandate would require an immediate 9.4 percent cut in defense programs and an 8.2 percent reduction in domestic initiatives in January, according to the report from the Office of Management and Budget, which lists preliminary figures.

“The Administration does not support these cuts, but unless Congress acts responsibly, there will be no choice but to implement them,” the report says. “No amount of planning can mitigate the significant impact of the sequestration. The destructive across-the-board cuts required by the sequestration are not a substitute for a responsible deficit reduction plan.”

The report is likely to heighten an already agitated campaign-trail debate over who is to blame for the nation’s collision course with the automatic cuts, as well as how to best avoid them.

The cuts are part of the still unfolding consequences of the bipartisan deal struck last summer to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. In the Budget Control Act, adopted in August 2011, Congress agreed to appoint a 12-member supercommittee to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. If the committee failed to reach agreement, the $1.2 trillion would be skimmed off the top of all federal spending over the next decade, split evenly between domestic and defense programs.

Gridlocked by partisan bickering, the panel disbanded last year, and the first round of cuts — $110 billion — is set to take effect in January, at the same time as taxes are scheduled to rise for nearly every American. The Congressional Budget Office has said the resulting blow to the economy would push the nation back into a recession.

The report tracks the level of cuts for 1,200 separate budget line items, taking account of rules Congress agreed to last summer that shield certain priorities, including food stamps and Medicaid benefits. Salaries for military personnel are also exempt, as are Medicare benefits, though Medicare providers would take a 2 percent hit.

Lawmakers in both parties acknowledge that allowing the massive cuts to hit every part of government, with no prioritization, could have devastating results. But they have been unable to agree how best to defuse the coming implosion. In a bill adopted last spring, House Republicans proposed extending current tax rates for Americans of all income levels and shifting the military cuts onto domestic programs.

They and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have accused President Obama of being prepared to let the cuts roll and have blamed him for putting the military budget at risk.

The report Friday seemed designed in part to hit back at the Republicans. The White House repeatedly argued that Obama has offered his own proposal for replacing the sequester, in his suggestions to the bipartisan committee and again in his budget submitted earlier this year.

The president recommended targeted spending cuts paired with higher taxes on the wealthy.

The report criticized the House proposal, saying it would “shift the burden of deficit reduction onto the middle-class and vulnerable populations and represent the wrong choices for the nation’s long-term growth and prosperity.”

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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