By: Carolyn Lochhead
Friday may not be doomsday after all. President Obama said as much in a press conference Friday, when he said the sequester is “not apocalypse” but “just dumb.” He said he could not do a “Jedi mind-meld” to convince Republican leaders to avoid it.
So Obama is not a Jedi but perhaps the White House has miscalculated the politics of the dreaded sequester, which promises to knock $85 billion out of domestic and defense discretionary spending, leaving entitlements — the key driver of chronic U.S. deficits — all but untouched. The cuts will total 5% to 6% of agency budgets, split between domestic and defense. Military personnel will not be affected.
Unlike a government shutdown, the cuts are spread over the rest of the year and won’t be noticeable for at least a month, making the administration’s, and the Pentagon’s, scary scenarios feel a lot less scary. The administration has backed off claims of airport delays, and its teacher furloughs were exposed as overblown.
Republicans have had a field day pointing out all the bloat that could stand a trim. Wall Street Journal editorialists have taken to calling the sequester Obamageddon: “And when the Republicans opened the seventh seal of the sequester, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black and the stars fell unto the Earth; and our nation’s ability to forecast severe weather, such as drought events, hurricanes and tornados, was seriously undermined. Lo, and the children were not vaccinated, and all the beasts starved in the zoos, and the planes were grounded.”
For Republicans, the sequester may be moving the party off its devotion to the Pentagon.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), on Monday proposed a sequester alternative that would cut $500 billion from the Pentagon over 10 years, by cutting programs that contribute nothing to defense ($150 billion), cutting troops in Europe ($20 billion) and spending less on military bands ($1.8 billion — that’s a lot of bands).
Mark Lucas, an Army veteran who now runs the Iowa chapter of the conservative Americans for Prosperity, said he saw ample examples of waste during his 10 year service, backed up by GAO reports.
Lucas said many conservative activists tell him, “Oh, cutting defense, that’s a sacred lamb, oh, we can’t do that,” but he tells them: “Hey, I’m a conservative I’m a right winger, I’m a neocon, I love the Department of Defense, I love the military, but, we can’t afford this.”
Because personnel are off limits, the sequester will cut about 13% of the applicable Pentagon accounts, said Gordon Adams, a former budget chief for national security now at the Stimson Center. On a conference call Friday, Adams and Larry Korb, a former deputy defense secretary, said the Pentagon could more than stand this slimming down without affecting readiness or national security, despite what Pentagon chiefs say.
“This is an organization that has plans for invading Canada,” Korb said.