Senators Look for a Way Out of Sequestration | People
The Air Force Times--A bipartisan group of six senators announced Monday that they are trying to find a way to avoid sequestration in January.
The group includes the Democratic chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, both of whom said they are worried about the impact of across-the-board cuts on defense programs.
Sequestration would cut an additional $500 billion from defense spending plans over the next 10 years, starting with a $55 billion reduction in 2013. Military personnel programs would be spared, under a decision made by the Obama administration, but other defense accounts face a 9.4 percent reduction that would slice into funding for overseas contingency operations, purchases of weapons, ammunition and other supplies and even maintenance of equipment and facilities.
In a letter to Senate leaders, the group advocates a bipartisan and long-range deficit reduction package rather than a one-year fix or punting financial decisions down the road.
The letter comes as Congress has begun a seven-week break for the November elections, with lawmakers not expected to return to work until the week of Nov. 10. Avoiding sequestration is one of the most pressing issues on the post-election agenda.
“We face a critical challenge in the next few months: balancing the need to reduce the deficit with the need to safeguard important priorities, particularly protecting our national security, vital domestic programs, and our economic recovery,” the letter states. “We believe it is imperative to enact a bipartisan deficit reduction package to avoid the severe economic damage that would result from the implementation of sequestration. Any deficit reduction package should be long-term and should provide as much certainty as possible for businesses and consumers.”
The letter urges Senate leaders to consider any and all bipartisan ideas for avoiding sequestration by devising a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years and to send any proposals they might receive to the Congressional Budget Office for review. CBO, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, is responsible for putting price tags on pending legislation, and would be able to determine the savings from various proposals.
Having CBO estimates in hand could smooth the path toward passing a deficit-reduction package after the November elections to avoid across-the-board cuts that otherwise would have to be ordered on Jan. 2.
But finding common ground will not be easy. The letter is signed by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the armed services committee chairman who has said he supports some additional defense cuts as part of a deficit reduction deal, and by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, ranking Republican on the committee, who has been touring the U.S. on behalf of Republican candidates to talk about how the Obama administration’s defense cuts are hurting national security.
The two other Republicans signing the letter are Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who have been traveling with McCain. Democrats joining Levin on the letter are Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
“We are committed to working together to help forge a balanced bipartisan deficit reduction package to avoid damage to our national security, important domestic priorities, and our economy,” the letter states.
Their concerns go beyond just defense. “Sequestration will endanger the lives of America’s service members, threaten our national security, and impact vital domestic programs and services,” the letter states.
“Meeting this challenge will require real compromise, and we do not believe that Congress and the president can afford to wait until January to begin to develop a short term or long term sequestration alternative. All ideas should be put on the table and considered.”