House Democrats Warn Sequestration To Force Larger Cuts Than Expected

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The automatic spending cuts that could be forced by so-called budget sequestration are likely to be even greater than Congress already is expecting, according to a Democratic House Appropriators Committee analysis sent to lawmakers Oct. 9.

While defense and nondefense spending already are facing huge cuts under the budget law, a lesser known “second sequestration” to enforce a firewall between accounts could result in defense being subject to an additional cut of almost 2 percent in fiscal year 2013, lawmakers were told in a “Dear Colleague” letter.

The sum of the two separate sequestrations on defense appropriations equals $60.6 billion, according to an analysis accompanying the letter sent to House members by committee ranking member Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.). That figure includes the $50.5 billion associated with the 9.4 percent cut budget sequestration would force plus an additional $10.1 billion from a separate firewall enforcement sequestration, he said.

Dicks, who also serves as the ranking member of the Defense Subcommittee, said the sequestration's total impact on the Pentagon is not well known as a recent analysis by the White House Office of Management and Budget estimated percentage cuts for defense and nondefense based on the assumptions set in the Sequestration Transparency Act (Pub. L. No. 112-155). The Sept. 14 OMB report looked at only one aspect of sequestration, Dicks said, and outlined how defense faces a 9.4 percent cut in 2013 and nondefense a 8.2 percent reduction (179 DER A-24, 9/17/12).

“As another motivation to act, the BCA also set up a second, separate sequestration to enforce the firewall between security and non-security appropriations,” Dicks said. “Because the Joint [Select] Committee [on Deficit Reduction] failed, a new and lower defense firewall goes into effect, requiring an additional cut in defense spending.”

Dicks said that based on the Defense spending provided in the recently enacted continuing resolution (H.J. Res. 117), the committee estimates that there will need to be an additional cut of 1.9 percent in discretionary defense accounts for 2013.

'Second Sequestration' to Force More Cuts.

The “Dear Colleague” letter and the analysis conducted by committee staff were distributed on the letterhead of the House Appropriations Committee but only signed by Dicks, who plans to retire from the House at year's end. He told lawmakers his goal in distributing the analysis is to make the case “for Congress to act responsibly by agreeing to a more sensible approach to deficit reduction” than allowing the across-the-board spending cuts called for in the Budget Control Act (Pub. L. No. 112-25) to take place next January.

In negotiating the BCA last year, congressional leaders and the White House agreed to $1.2 trillion in cuts mostly by capping discretionary appropriations over the 10 years from FY 2012 to FY 2021. The law also set up the so-called super committee to find a second installment of $1.2 trillion in savings. However, the law called for sequestration and automatic cuts if the committee failed to agree on a deficit reduction plan.

Dicks said that while the committee failed to reach a deal, lawmakers should not assume it now is impossible to avoid the automatic cuts.

“Sequestration is not so much a back-up plan as an inducement for all sides to reach a compromise,” Dicks said. “Clearly, any thoughtful, deliberate agreement will be an improvement over the mechanical and indiscriminate nature of sequestration cuts.”

Dicks and Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) both recently expressed concern about the specter of more cuts to discretionary programs, particularly as they try to wrap up their work on 2013 appropriations. While Congress passed the six-month CR to fund the government before adjournment this fall, Dicks and Rogers said they still want to try to pass the 12 regular 2013 appropriations bills during a post-election, lame-duck session. Dicks said they might all be rolled into an omnibus in December.

Rogers said during a Sept. 16 CSPAN interview that there will be more pressure to cut discretionary spending but it will be difficult to do so. The discretionary programs under the control of the Appropriations Committee already have been cut three years in a row, and even deeper cuts to defense and non-defense programs will not help reduce the deficit, he said.

“Because of entitlement spending, we will still be in the red, every year,” Rogers said. “So the problem is not in discretionary spending. We have done our job. The problem is the autospending of cruise control entitlements.”

Impact of Cuts Detailed.

During consideration of the CR on the House floor in September, Rogers and Dicks suggested an omnibus to wrap up 2013 appropriations work might also be a vehicle to head off sequestration and the cuts in discretionary programs.

In detailing the impact of the forced cuts on the Pentagon's budget, the committee focused on procurement accounts and said the reductions would hit members' favored programs hard. Among other things, the panel said the cuts would mean far fewer new Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters, Stryker vehicles, F-18G aircraft, and more. Funding for the Joint Strike Fighter would be cut by $1 billion, the Aerial Refueling Tanker program by $99.5 million, and the Next Generation Bomber by $33.7 million, it said.

The committee said sequestration would cut more than $2 billion from military construction accounts, an amount that would require the Pentagon to “render its entire construction program unexecutable.”

The Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, may have to cut more than 24,500 jobs to achieve the reduced funding levels, including 3,400 border patrol agents, 3,400 Customs and border protection officers, 7,403 active duty and civilian U.S. Coast Guard personnel, 932 Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents, 7,240 Transportation Security Administration officers, and more, it said.

The panel added sequestration could translate into 2,200 fewer employees at the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control operation, including air traffic controllers, technicians and support staff, a development that likely would reduce the number of daily flights. At the Justice Department, 7,500 jobs would be threatened, including 3,000 at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the U.S. Marshals Service, it said. Also in jeopardy would be the jobs of 1,000 attorneys investigating terrorism, drugs, gun-running and violent crime related prosecutions, it said.

While detailing the impact of the cuts throughout the federal agencies, the committee analysis sent to lawmakers also described the impact of sequestration on members' own offices and staff.

“Under a 8.2 percent cut, each House congressional office would lose more than $100,000,” Dicks said. “Mid-level congressional staff (legislative assistants) earn $48,762 on average, according to the 2010 House Compensation Study. Members of Congress would have to eliminate more than two legislative assistants to live within these new levels.”

By Nancy Ognanovich  


A copy of the Dear Colleague letter and analysis is available on the minority website of the House Appropriations Committee at http://democrats.appropriations.house.gov/.