ACTION ALERT: Tell Reid to Stand Strong on Pentagon Spending
June 5, 2012
Ross Wallen / USAction.org & David Rogers / Politico
When Congress failed to make a deal on the debt ceiling last year they promised to do something they've never done before -- cut over $50 billion from the Pentagon budget. But House Republicans are betraying their promise, and threatening to break the law by passing Military spending bills that not only shield the Pentagon from any of the cuts they promised to make, they actually increase spending on war and weapons by $8 billion. Don't let it happen.
ACTION ALERT: Tell Reid to Stand Strong on Pentagon Spending
Ross Wallen / True Majority & USAction.org
(June 4, 2012) -- When Congress failed to make a deal on the debt ceiling last year they promised to do something they've never done before -- cut over $50 billion from the Pentagon budget.
But House Republicans are betraying their promise, and threatening to break the law by passing Military spending bills that not only shield the Pentagon from any of the cuts they promised to make, they actually increase spending on war and weapons by $8 billion. Instead, they want to cut spending on food for children, health care, and help to get jobless Americans back on their feet.
So far, the Senate is standing up to them and promising not to let the House back out on their commitment to cutting Pentagon spending. But the weapons-builders are just starting to ramp up their pressure, and the Senate has often caved in to the House in past negotiations over spending.
Don't let it happen again. Sign our open letter to the Senate asking them to stick to their guns (metaphorically) and cut Pentagon spending just like they promised.
And please ask your friends to do the same.
We've been fighting to cut Pentagon spending for years. But Congress has never passed a law promising to do so like they did last year. The law was intended to force members to compromise on the debt ceiling debate -- and a lot of Representatives never thought it would go into effect when they passed it.
But for once, the partisan sniping worked in our favor, and when Congress couldn't agree to disagree we got our best chance to make real cuts to our war budget since the end of the cold war.
Still, nobody thinks this will be easy. The President and Pentagon have signed on to big cuts in the Pentagon budget, but so far nobody in Congress -- not the House and not the Senate -- has agreed that we need to go this far. Right now Harry Reid and other Senate leaders are talking tough, but we need them to stick to that promise in the weeks ahead. And it will be a tough position for them to hold with weapons makers spending millions of dollars on lobbying and on the elections.
That's why we need you to sign on to this open letter today -- we're partnering with our friends at Council for a Livable World so we can get as many people involved right now, before the lobbyists turn up the heat. If we can get enough signers on this letter, we can convince Senate leaders that it's more important to stick by their promises than to give in to the House and war-lobby.
The Republican-led House has passed a Defense Authorization bill that actually increases spending on the Pentagon, at a direct cost to spending on nation-building here at home. The spending requested is well above what Secretary of Defense Gates and other military leaders have requested, and completely ignores Congress' own promise to cut spending.
The Congress has passed laws committing to cut over $50 billion from the Pentagon. And this target can be sensibly met without harming our national security interests.
But only if the Senate stands up to the House, and refuses to let them destroy the fabric of our social safety net so that we can continue to fund pork-barrel military projects that even the Pentagon does not want.
Democrats Stiffen Spine on Sequester
David Rogers / Politico
(May 23, 2012) -- Power in Washington these days is most defined by saying "no," which helps explain why Speaker John Boehner felt compelled last week -- in the middle of May -- to bring up a wintry debt ceiling fight more than six months away.
At one level it was an act of defiance to appease the right and embarrass President Barack Obama, with whom Boehner knew he would be having lunch the next day. But it was also an admission of weakness in what's become a high-stakes budget poker game matching the speaker against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
More than $600 billion in year-end tax and spending changes are already in play, but the ground has shifted to the point where Boehner had to leapfrog still further ahead to the debt ceiling issue, when his "no" will mean something again.
He and other House Republican leaders don't want another government shutdown in October and have already signaled they will backtrack then from the deeper appropriations cuts in their March budget.
So it is really Senate Democrats who are next in line to wield the power of "no." In November and December, they'll be in position to block Republican-backed legislation to stop an automatic 10 percent sequester of Pentagon funds and to extend high-end tax breaks for the wealthy.
Indeed, the new kid on the block is this tougher Democratic mind-set embodied by Reid. And the former Vegas gaming commissioner is ready to risk tens of billions in automatic spending cuts in January rather than give in any longer to Republican demands that all deficit reduction come from domestic savings -- with no revenues.
In an interview with POLITICO, Reid said he was open to a compromise that would salvage about four-fifths of the Bush-era tax cuts. But absent some concession on revenues, the $110 billion in spending cuts ordered by the debt agreement last August would go into effect.
"I am not going to back off the sequestration," Reid said. "That's the law we passed. We did it because it wouldn't make things easy for us. It made it so we would have to do something. And if we didn't, these cuts would kick in."
"To now see the Republicans scrambling to do away with the cuts to defense, I will not accept that," Reid said. "My people -- in the state of Nevada and I think the country -- have had enough of whacking all the programs. We've cut them to a bare bone, and defense is going to have to bear their share of the burden."
This is a major escalation from just months ago, when Obama's 2013 budget cheerfully assumed that the sequester would never happen. And it takes direct aim at pro-defense Republicans, who have been a mainstay for Boehner inside the GOP and one very big reason the speaker had to fast-forward to try to add the debt ceiling to the fight.
"The largest tax hike in American history is scheduled for the end of this year. So are the defense cuts that President Obama and the secretary of defense have said will hollow out America's armed services," Boehner told reporters last week. "And out-of-control spending will force Washington to act on raising the debt limit or face a disastrous default."
"People are looking at me like I am the guy carrying the sword around town and am going to bludgeon someone," the speaker added, as if embarrassed by the headlines he triggered with his remarks. "I am suggesting is it is time for us to talk about this."
It's a little more than that, of course, and for both parties the reality of the potential sequester is only beginning to sink in.
Democrats worry that the economic impact will be felt before the election, as federal contract officers slow down spending in anticipation of the cliff ahead of them. And the fact that the party might risk this outcome reflects how extreme the budget debate has become.
Nonetheless, the recent House-passed reconciliation bill, which promises to forestall these very same cuts in January, was the last straw for Reid and helped fortify his position.
The package shields the Pentagon entirely from sequester and even allows for an $8 billion spending increase over 2012 and what was promised in the August debt accords. At the same time, poverty programs like food stamps, Medicaid and the Social Services Block Grant face real cuts together with wholesale reductions at the expense of Obama's signature health care and financial market reforms.
Even conservative columnists have since argued that the GOP's single-minded protection of defense -- without any new revenues -- is untenable. Roman Catholic bishops -- allied with Boehner in the past -- protested the cuts that hurt the poor.
But the real killer for many Democrats is that even if they were to agree to the House demands, it is just a one-year fix and Congress will be back facing the same Hobson's choices next year.
Reid's wrath is directed less at Boehner personally than the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, whose own "no" vote -- the Taxpayer Protection Pledge -- has done so much to stymie efforts to reach compromise on revenues.
"Unless Grover Norquist is reined in, the answer is yes," Reid said when asked about the likelihood of the sequester going into effect. "These people all signed a pledge that they weren't going to raise taxes. We cannot do this without raising taxes."
"That's why we did it," he said of the calculations that went into writing the automatic cuts into the Budget Control Act last August. The threatened reductions were designed to be severe enough to force some compromise between the warring parties, but those hopes were dashed months later when the supercommittee talks collapsed.
"We did it knowing the pain, and maybe the pain would cause Grover Norquist to wither away," Reid said. "But he hasn't. He's become more emboldened and threatening and they are running from him just as they always have."
"The cuts are bad for defense, and they are bad for domestic discretionary. But the alternative is to do nothing about the debt."
Reid would not speak for Obama directly but has kept the White House informed of his stand. Asked whether the president was on his side, Reid said, "I would think he is."
Others could include deficit hawks like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who signed on to a May 15 letter with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) telling Reid and Boehner that it would be "inappropriate to delay" the automatic cuts absent some larger deficit deal that included not just spending but also tax expenditures.
"I don't think there is the stomach out there to stop the sequester," Reid said.
Pro-defense Democrats are certainly nervous at this prospect, but Reid needs only 40 senators plus himself to block action before the deadline in early January.
In the case of the Bush tax cuts, he spoke first in terms of shielding those households earning less than $250,000 but then signaled later that he was open to a higher threshold, closer to the $1 million cutoff suggested by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday.
The tax component is important given the warning from the Congressional Budget Office this week that too much austerity at the end of the year could throw the economy into a recession.
Eliminating all of the expiring Bush tax cuts would represent a $221 billion revenue increase in fiscal 2013 alone compared with fiscal 2012, CBO said. But if those under $250,000 were left whole, the rough rule is that the increase would be only about a fifth that size or about $44 billion.
Given that Congress will almost certainly act to protect Medicare physician reimbursements, it would be easy to see how the $600 billion in changes forecast could be reduced to about $400 billion or less. And this is not so far from an alternative CBO scenario, in which economic growth next year slows but is still positive in the range of 1.7 percent to 2 percent.
Within these numbers, CBO estimates that the automatic sequester will result in an immediate $65 billion reduction in outlays for fiscal 2013 and then a further $41 billion spread over subsequent years.
Nonetheless, it would be as if Congress pushed a huge reset button, taking the entire discretionary budget back in real dollars to the 2001-2002 fiscal years at the end of Bill Clinton's presidency and pre-Iraq War administration of President George W. Bush.
Total discretionary spending would be cut $98 billion from the caps agreed to last summer for fiscal 2013. Defense spending would drop to $491 billion, a reduction of $55 billion, and nondefense to $458 billion, a $43 billion cut.
Measured against the House Republican budget, the shift is more dramatic. Defense would fall $63 billion while nondefense spending -- already reduced by the GOP -- suffers a net loss of just $15 billion.
These are the numbers most important to Reid's calculus if he hopes to get a bargain with the House.
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