In an effort to dodge President Obama’s State of the Union charges that Republicans want a government shutdown, GOP lawmakers are scrambling to maintain leverage in the debate over the impending sequester.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) announced Thursday that he is preparing a continuing resolution that would split looming sequestration cuts from any possible March 27th government shutdown through a stopgap spending bill that would lock in spending at $1.043 trillion for the fiscal year and would allow the $85 billion sequester cuts to move forward unless Congress acts on them.
Sequestration is the term used to describe impending automatic budget cuts that would slash $500 billion in defense spending over the next decade unless Congress acts to avert doing so.
"By doing Defense and Veterans' Appropriations bills, we can show the public our vision for responsible funding for our national defense, as opposed to Obama's vision, which is slash and burn sequestration cuts and a hollowed-out military," says a GOP memo.
Rogers’s efforts to avoid Republican blame for a possible government shutdown, however, may ease up the pressure GOP officials need to negotiate the most favorable outcome for sequestration. On Wednesday, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee scolded Department of Defense top brass for not preparing contingency plans on how to handle automatic budget cuts if the sequester goes through--a move that would have highlighted the dire stakes involved for national defense.
"There's been 560 days since [sequestration] was signed into law as the law of the land... [and] just within the last couple of weeks, [is] when we've received the memos from you guys about the impacts that this was going to have," said Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA).
Forbes asked the military officials whether it was “a mistake to wait that long… to do the planning and communicate to the American people the impacts that we would have from sequestration?”
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) joined Forbes in blasting the DOD officials for not helping educate Americans on what sequestration would mean, thereby undermining lawmakers’ leverage to negotiate. “You are part of the problem…you helped cause this,” said Bishop. “You bear some of the responsibility, [and] there is a lot of blame to go around.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter responded that the Pentagon has warned about sequester cuts since 2011.
“We have been describing the consequences of sequester for a very long time. We've been anticipating them. They're not hard to see," Carter said. "Planning isn't the problem [it's] never been the problem. The problem was doing something… We're now acting as though sequestration is going to happen. I wish we weren't and I still hope it gets averted, but we've had to start taking some actions now so that it doesn't get worse later," he asserted.
"That answer is not acceptable,” fired back Bishop. “The mere fact of the matter is the planning actually came out in 2012. You were not vigilant on this issue early enough. I'm sorry."