Obama has the authority to ensure sequester cuts don’t bite

Facts 1, Democratic Scare Stories of All the Carnage to Result From Cutting $85 Billion Out of a $4 Trillion in Spending 0. From the Wall Street Journal:

[I]f any of these cataclysms [mentioned by President Obama and congressional Democrats] do come to pass, then they will be mostly Mr. Obama’s own creation. The truth is that the sequester already gives the White House the legal flexibility to avoid doom, if a 5% cut to programs that have increased more than 17% on average over the Obama Presidency counts as doom.

According to Mr. Obama and his budget office, the sequester cuts are indiscriminate and spell out specific percentages that will be subtracted from federal “projects, programs and activities,” or PPAs. Except for the exemptions in the 2011 budget deal, the White House says it must now cut across the board regardless of how important a given PPA is. Food inspectors, say, will be treated the same as subsidies for millionaire farmers.

Not so fast. Programs, projects and activities are a technical category of the federal budget, but the sequester actually occurs at the roughly 1,200 broader units known as budget accounts. Some accounts are small, but others contain hundreds of PPAs and the larger accounts run to billions of dollars. For the Pentagon in particular, the distinction between PPAs and accounts is huge. This means in most cases the President has the room to protect his “investments” while managing the fiscal transition over time.

The explanation for this unrealized distinction, the Journal continues, is that the bill hastily passed in 2011 took its language from the 1985 Gramm-Rudman Deficit Control Act. When the federal government is operating under continuing budget resolutions rather than a normal budget, as it has been for a few years now, the 1985 bill (and thus the 2011 bill) provides that cuts can be made at the broader level. Finally, Senate Democrats’ dereliction of duty, in refusing to pass a budget, comes with a benefit.

With the claim that he has no discretion in making budget cuts now disproved, Obama’s case rests on the highly dubious proposition that any cuts of $85 billion out of nearly $4 trillion in spending would be disastrous. No reasonable person can possibly believe the federal government spends every last billion efficiently; it’s why majorities of the public continue to tell pollsters they think spending cuts should be the priority in reducing the deficit, even if they disagree about which particular spending programs should be affected.

Of course, it’s also a dubious proposition that sequestration would lead to unbearable outcomes even absent this flexibility. If the president truly believes that the last $85 billion of federal spending is the difference between order and chaos, then he can’t possibly be believed when he says he’s in favor of cutting any spending at all.

That’s all the more true if the Obama administration really has the flexibility to make cuts in the most prudent fashion possible — and the entire Journal editorial is worth reading to get a full grasp of why that’s true. Any slowing of services from airport security to weather forecasting, or the loss of jobs for teachers and police officers, will be because the cuts weren’t managed properly.

Or, as the Journal puts it: “The real revelation is that if the world does end, it will be Mr. Obama’s choice.”

– By Kyle Wingfield

222 comments Add your comment

Bullseye

February 27th, 2013
9:31 am

Wingfield hates America.

interested observer

February 27th, 2013
9:33 am

I’m generally an Obama supporter, but Wingfield is right. If we can’t cut $85 billion without chaos, we’re in worse trouble than I imagined.

Deep Cover

February 27th, 2013
9:40 am

I am a HUGE Obama supporter. But I blame the GOP for playing these games (with someone that is obviously MUCH SMARTER than them). When the GOP passed the sequester bill they should have included in the DETAILS the EXACT ACCOUNTS they wanted cut. That way Obama would not be able to run roughshod over them and free undocumented immigrants, furlough TSA frontline workers, cut children from HeadStart, end meal-for-wheels for seniors, and furlough air traffic controllers.

The GOP brought a knife to a gunfight. If they were going to INSIST on these cuts, they should have detailed IN THE LEGISLATION exactly where the cuts are going to come from. The GOP DESERVES the blame for the sequester due to their shear stupidity.

Jefferson

February 27th, 2013
9:40 am

The Senate is off their “ass”, a balanced approach.

Cherokee

February 27th, 2013
9:40 am

Kyle the Republican mantra for years has been that draconian cuts to the federal government are the solution to all our economic woes.

It’s about to happen; you should be celebrating, not criticizing the President for how he chooses to make those cuts. Your wish is coming true, and assuming that Republican economic theory is correct, Republicans will be seen as the saviors of our country.

Right?

django

February 27th, 2013
9:41 am

I sure hope the Republicans stand firm. This is a drop in the bucket for our almost $4 trillion budget.

Retired Soldier

February 27th, 2013
9:41 am

Not only should the 85 billion be cut because of waste fraud and abuse, it should be cut because we can’t continue to add over a trillion dollars each year to the credit card. Our Congress and President need to re-read the Constitution again to ensure they understand what is a responsibility of the federal government and what is a responsibility of state and local government. If the federal government would restrict spending to areas the Constitution mandates and we reform medicare and social security to the 21st century reality we could end the deficit spending and begin retiring our debt.

Whirled Peas

February 27th, 2013
9:42 am

Obama should be impeached for releasing illegal alien criminals to scare people.

It is Obama’s sequester. He proposed it. Let him deal with it.

Retired Soldier

February 27th, 2013
9:42 am

Deep Cover-

When the GOP passed? What about the Senate and the President?

Jefferson

February 27th, 2013
9:46 am

More “R’s” voted for it than “D’s”, fact.

Retired Soldier

February 27th, 2013
9:49 am

More democrat presidents signed the bill, fact.

Jefferson

February 27th, 2013
10:00 am

So everyone is happy, right. RT, all laws work like that, that a dumb point.

Aynie Sue

February 27th, 2013
10:02 am

The Congress is responsible for federal budgeting, and all spending and revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives. So, why should President Obama decide the actual spending cuts, or be criticized for his decisions?

The Republican-dominated House of Representatives has reneged on its Constitutional duties. It is the sole creator of all the manufactured financial crises of the federal government.

You Republicans are criticizing the President for following the law (or lack of it) by doing what you so foolishly advocate: cutting federal expenses before economic recovery.

Retired Soldier

February 27th, 2013
10:03 am

Of course it is a dumb point Jefferson, that why I mocked your point.

Retired Soldier

February 27th, 2013
10:05 am

Sue-

How has the House “reneged” on its constitutional duties? It has passed a budget every year, the Senate has refused to consider it, much less amend it. Your answer ought to be interesting.

Ben the Independent

February 27th, 2013
10:06 am

The Obama machine has brought out all the guns to prevent his sequester solution to a deadlock he caused with his ‘my way or the highway’. A new argument to prevent his sequester is reported to be his ‘release of illegal aliens’ now when a 30 day notice is required before a government employee can be furloughed. His skillful handling of the GOP may come back to bite him as he will be selecting the cuts to be made and uninformed voters can see the results of Mr Obama’s actions.

Matt321

February 27th, 2013
10:08 am

This blog would be worth something more than nothing if it provided even one concrete example of what the President could do with this flexibility. From the Wall Street Journal editorial (hilarious that you use them as an authority, btw – has any editorial board been more consistently wrong over the years? But I digress):

“Not so fast. Programs, projects and activities are a technical category of the federal budget, but the sequester actually occurs at the roughly 1,200 broader units known as budget accounts. Some accounts are small, but others contain hundreds of PPAs and the larger accounts run to billions of dollars. ”

So there are 1200 budget accounts, each of which face an across the board cut. Please explain how, using these 1200 accounts, the President can avoid furloughing Pentagon contracts, for example, or avoid furloughing air traffic controllers. You’re the one making the argument that the President can just make it all better, so the burden’s on you to actually prove that. You’re not there yet.

Jerry Eads

February 27th, 2013
10:08 am

Thanks Kyle. (I know it worries you when I appreciate your efforts :-) )
Very interesting.

Centrist

February 27th, 2013
10:10 am

The point is that Obama and other Democrats want the sequester cuts to bite, and bite hard enough that the public demands fewer or no real cuts be made. They intend to cut meat first to save the fat they use to buy votes.

Their plan may at least partially work as Republicans cave under constituent pressure of those feeling the pain, and the general media hyperbole (ignoring that fat could be cut instead) continues.

Aynie Sue

February 27th, 2013
10:13 am

The Wall Street Journal … that’s a Rupert Murdoch propaganda rag, isn’t it? Murdoch, the Australian magnate of FoxNews and tabloid infamy, has trashed two of the world’s great newspapers: the Wall Street Journal and the Times of London.

Where is all that “waste and fraud” that Obama should cut? So far, Republicans have cited only Big Bird!

django

February 27th, 2013
10:16 am

It will be interesting the dog and pony show obama and Congress is about to have. I hope Boehner don’t give in. He did last time.

Retired Soldier

February 27th, 2013
10:17 am

Sue-

If you have to ask where is the waste fraud and abuse in a 3.6 trillion dollare budget, then this discussion isn’t for you. I also noticed you failed to answer my question of how the House “reneged” on its duties. Typical.

Good point Centrist.

Deep Cover

February 27th, 2013
10:20 am

Retired Soldier @ 9:42
“When the GOP passed? What about the Senate and the President?”

…uhhh…what about it???

It’s the GOP that wanted to play this game. I don’t recall the deficit EVER being a problem from 2001-2009. As a matter of fact a remember the VP of the United States in 2003 saying that “Deficits DO NOT MATTER.” So now, all of a sudden, in 2009, deficits suddenly “matter.”

The GOP decided to play this game and I am very AMUSED to see that the POTUS is working them over.

It is clearly evident that the GOP just isn’t SMART enough to beat the POTUS. They are LOSING on every issue…BAD. Look at VAWA. The the House just agreed to let the Senate bill stand for an up-and-down vote after the House version FAILS b/c they can’t get enough votes to pass the House watered down version. Every single issue from VAWA, to the sequester, to the fiscal cliff, to health care, to the ELECTION, the GOP seems to get worked over by Obama…and the GOP doesn’t just LOSE, they seem to get embarrassed.

It is obvious that the GOP just isn’t smart enough to deal with this guy. Once again, the GOP is bringing a knife to a gunfight and is getting slaughtered.

1961_Xer

February 27th, 2013
10:21 am

I’m generally an Obama supporter, but Wingfield is right. If we can’t cut $85 billion without chaos, we’re in worse trouble than I imagined.

Bingo. Further, this should be a wakeup call to everyone in the U.S.

Lets suppose that Obama is correct.. that these cuts will cause chaos. That is all the more reason to draw the line against ANY new spending whatsoever (except for, perhaps, true emergencies). It is an admission on behalf of the Obama and the Democrats that we HAVE EXCEEDED our limit.

An aside: in recent days, Obama has been campaigning that we could cut other wasteful programs rather than the sequester cuts. Why has no one asked the obvious question: what wasteful programs? Why haven’t the ALREADY been cut if even Obama thinks they are wasteful?

NoBodyYouKnow

February 27th, 2013
10:22 am

NEVER, in my 70 yrs. have I seen a president who absoluty would not sit down and solve a serious problem in the country as this one. Which proves the arrrogance, stubborness, and my way or no way attitude of O’bama. I garantee my friends history will show this was his failure and his fault. It is surely a lack of leadership.

Just Saying..

February 27th, 2013
10:26 am

Kyle, honestly, it’s disingenuous to speak of $85B from a $4T budget, when you’re perfectly aware that:
-Most of the $4T budget is protected, the cuts come from the remaining budget.
-Because of agreed delays, the cuts are over a 7 month period, rather than a full 12 month fiscal year.

Conservative perspective is one thing.
Deliberate slanting of facts is beneath the McGill-Patterson legacy an AJC columnist should honor.

1961_Xer

February 27th, 2013
10:28 am

As a matter of fact a remember the VP of the United States in 2003 saying that “Deficits DO NOT MATTER.” So now, all of a sudden, in 2009, deficits suddenly “matter.”

If you exceeded your monthy budget by $10, that wouldn’t matter. If you exceeded your monthy budget by 10,000 , that would matter.

In 2003, the budget deficit was $377 billion and the national debt was $6.7 trillion
in 20012, the budget deficit was $1.1 TRILLION and the national debt was $16 trillion.,

What didn’t matter (much) in 2003 matters a helluva lot in 2013.

Deep Cover

February 27th, 2013
10:29 am

Retired Soldier @ 9:42

The POTUS is getting what he wants. He has the “best” of both worlds.

He is able to claim that he has seriously addressed deficit reduction (for the fiscal conservative/socially moderate crowd) while beginning to chip away at the GOP notion that government does not matter and needs to get smaller.

That is the reason why he is furloughing air traffic controllers, TSA staff, delaying the opening of Federal parks, releasing undocumented immigrants, slowing the issuance of gun permits, cutting enrollment for Head Start, and ending the senior Meals-for-Wheels program. He is trying to prove a point that government “does” matter.

I agree with Kyle Wingfield’s take. The reduction can me made with absolutely NO EFFECT on essential services. However, the GOP should have been smart enough to specify which accounts should be reduced. Instead they have set themselves up to get worked over by Obama by playing this stupid deficit game…and it serves them right.

indigo

February 27th, 2013
10:33 am

Kyle, I’m not quite clear on this.

Are you saying that Obama, by himself, has to power to decide what is cut and what is not?

Retired Soldier

February 27th, 2013
10:33 am

Deep Cover-

There is no question republicans did not address the debt and deficit as they should have in 2001-2009. That is in part why they lost the Senate and House in 2006 and they should have lost it. They became democrats.

But you can’t compare the deficits and added debt between Obama and Bush, if Bush was “unpatriotic” for his deficits, what is Obama? We are close to default and action must be taken. Obama has the opportunity to be a hero, think what history would say about him if he solved the financial crisis we are in? Imstead, he palys politics and spends faster than a drunken sailor.

Did you listen to the State of the Union speech? I think the number was 29 new programs Obama proposed. Do you really think he wants to “draw the line” on spending? Not a chance.

Why has no one asked? Because the press is in bed with him.

Just Saying..

February 27th, 2013
10:37 am

“We are close to default…”

The US is nowhere close to default. Other countries are lining up to lend money to the US, at historically low rates of interest.

Dusty

February 27th, 2013
10:41 am

Kyle, You should be as mad as a hatter this morning. The things going on in Washington today are far beyond legal. The Wall Street Journal is beginning to catch on but the AJC is still tip toeing around.

The President is watzling around with politics like it is his right to change laws, spend or cut money and do what he likes. And if we don’t like it, then he punishes the states ( which did not vote for him) as a result. He’s found every loophole to justify his “right to do anything he likes”.It is not the upcominig sequester. It is the president.

It is a procedure quite familiar to those with any familiarity of tyrants who want more power. Grab for more and more power while blaming others for the loss of freedom..

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

February 27th, 2013
10:43 am

Obama should be impeached for releasing illegal alien criminals to scare people.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

obozo knows everything that Kyle reported is true but yet still chooses to lie in our face and commit felonies upon us. The American people are rewuired by the Constitution to be protected from law breakers, it’s one of the bare minimum requirements of the government, but obozo unleashes criminals upon us for bald faced political gain.

This is fascism, threaten us, threaten businesses, threaten employment using the power of government to get your way.

Our founding fathers would vomit on obama.

Retired Soldier

February 27th, 2013
10:44 am

Just saying-

Keep believing that. Why are our interest rates low? Because the Fed controls the strings. I guess you beleive, like was pointed out above, with VP in 2003 that “deficits don’t matter”. Strange bedfellows.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

February 27th, 2013
10:46 am

The job of our government and all these little blog fascists running their mouths in support of this illegal government is to threaten us, not to protect us.

Attack Dog

February 27th, 2013
10:49 am

Here is a little known secret for Dixiecans. The House has not only the ability, but thr constitutional mandate to ensure that the sequester doesn’t happen.

Centrist

February 27th, 2013
10:51 am

There is now a meeting of government leadership Friday after sequestration starts. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will not discuss more taxes or reducing the sequestration amount:

“We can either secure those reductions more intelligently, or we can do it the president’s way with across-the board cuts. But one thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to.”

Personally, while I agree with this stance – but maybe there will eventually be some wiggle room. So far Democrats refuse to address the elephant in the room of Social Security and Medicare spending, but possibly they would in exchange for closing tax loopholes and deductions – or better yet expanding the tax base to cover the underground economy. Not expecting that for at least weeks or months, though, if ever.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

February 27th, 2013
10:53 am

More signs of the Cons getting sanity back:

After proposing a non-starter version of the Violence Against Women Act, House Republicans are backing down and signaling that they will clear the way for a vote on the bipartisan Senate version of the bill, which includes expanded protections for LGBT women, Native Americans, and undocumented immigrants.

Aquagirl

February 27th, 2013
10:54 am

I see y’all learned from the last election—-don’t wait until you get torpedoed to start the Republican maths. Get those excuses in early!

Retired Soldier

February 27th, 2013
10:54 am

Attack Dog-

Please expand, I would be interested.

Matt321

February 27th, 2013
10:55 am

@Retired Soldier

Please explain how the Fed forces institutional investors and foreign countries to loan money to the United States at extremely low rates of interest. The fact is that rational investors, who are actually putting their money with their mouth is, believe that the United States is no where close to default. And of course, it isn’t. We are a sovereign country. If we absolutely needed more money, a) taxes are at an all time low (yes, you read that right – we are now at historically low tax levels, and compared to the rest of the world, we have very low tax levels as well), and b) we can always print money. The only way the United States could fail to honor its obligations would be if a band of lunatics somehow got elected to Congress, and threatened to arbitrarily stop paying our debts to make a political point. Oh, wait…

GDRLA

February 27th, 2013
10:55 am

“…clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right & I’m stuck in the middle…” Problem lies w/both sides – is going to take a combination of less spending (cuts, sequester, etc) & more $$ (revenue = TAX INCREASES). Not sure which side is the clown &/or which side is the idiot but the labels fit & appear to be interchangeable…Modify the sequester proposal so that SPECIFIC cuts can be made & then get down to the nitty gritty of serious governing. And yes, I am ENTITLED – started working @ 14 & have just become eligible for early SS – so I paid my dues & BOUGHT my ENTITLEMENT – don’t even think about changing that part of the equation.

Just Saying..

February 27th, 2013
10:56 am

“Keep believing that. Why are our interest rates low? ”

Thought you were all about basic economics.
Interest rates reflect the degree of risk in any given investment. Countries invest in US instruments because they rate the risk of default as very low.
Despite how much they’d prefer to support your ideologically defined positions…

Rafe Hollister preparing for an Obamanist America

February 27th, 2013
10:56 am

GOP should pass bill allowing the cabinet secretaries to take the cuts from whatever bucket they choose and then hold hearings for those that follow Obama’s lead and try and inflict the most pain. Some will choose to cut air traffic controllers rather than cut back the geese mitigation program, they should be held accountable for the harm they inflict in the name of getting their way.

Gov Spending is like oxycontin addiction, the more the addict takes, the less effect it has, so the dose has to continue to be increased. When you cut a small amount from the dosage, the addict goes into withdrawal. The same thing happens, when government is faced with a 2.4% cut in the rate of growth. This is a manufactured crisis ginned up by the Obama regime, who just wants more and more money to spend.

The regime wants to take just a little from “those who can afford it”. Is their ever an end, when they stop taking? The taxes the Senate is considering against evil Big Oil and the millionaire farmers, make the Dems hearts grow warm, but their wallets will grow lighter, as those taxes are ultimately passed on to the consumer.

Now, the sycophants can come forward and say oh no, these corporations will absorb these taxes, because they are making so much money, and they realize this is their “fair share”. Yeah, right! Tax yourselves and grin about how you stuck it to the wealthy corporations and executives!

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

February 27th, 2013
10:58 am

Pres O has the upper hand again? LOL

In about 10 or 20 years from now you Cons will realize you’ve been getting schooled by this guy all along.

mwuahahahahahahahahahaha

Just Saying..

February 27th, 2013
10:59 am

“The President is watzling around with politics like it is his right to change laws, spend or cut money and do what he likes”

OMG!!
You mean like, say, 200+ Signing Statements?

You are so right to be concerned.
Depending on which President is doing it…

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

February 27th, 2013
11:00 am

the Republican maths

An extension of the Karl Rove Election Night Maths.

MarkV

February 27th, 2013
11:00 am

Kyle: “ …majorities of the public continue to tell pollsters they think spending cuts should be the priority in reducing the deficit, …”

Gallup poll today:

Mostly spending cuts (“priority for spending cuts”): 28%
Is 28% “majority of the public?

Only spending cuts (20%) + Mostly spending cuts (28%) = 48%
Spending cuts AND tax increases (37%) + Mostly with tax increases (9%) + Only with tax increases (2%) = 48%

http://www.gallup.com/poll/147626/federal-budget-deficit.aspx

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

February 27th, 2013
11:01 am

Remember, even before the election we libs were on here saying all the cuts could be avoided. Three months later and the news is getting through the thick skullz….

Retired Soldier

February 27th, 2013
11:02 am

Nat and Just saying-

I did not say anyone was forcing anyone to buy U.S. debt. I did say the Fed was keeping interest rates unusally low. Why would anyone buy our debt when it exceeds GNP? I haven’t a clue. But you know, people were still giving Bernie Madoff (sp) millions right up to the end. There is no accounting for stupid.