U.S. Debt: What Next? Lawmakers Look to Undo the Back-up Plan

By: Donna Cassata, Associated Press
By: Donna Cassata, Associated Press

Washington, D.C. (AP) - Don't look for the Pentagon to shut down one
side of its famous five-sided building. Don't expect the Education
Department to pull back its grants just yet.

With the collapse of the deficit-cutting supercommittee, Congress' emergency backup budget-cutting plan now is supposed to take over -- automatic, across-the-board spending reductions of roughly $1 trillion from military and well as domestic government programs.

But the big federal deficit reductions that are to be triggered by Monday's supercommittee collapse wouldn't kick in until January
2013. And that allows plenty of time for lawmakers to try to rework
the cuts or hope that a new post-election cast of characters --
possibly a different president -- will reverse them.

Congress' defense hawks will be leading the charge, arguing that
the debt accord reached by President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans last summer already inflicted enough damage on the military budget. That agreement set in motion some $450 billion in cuts to future Pentagon accounts over the next decade.

The supercommittee's failure to produce a deficit-cutting plan of at least $1.2 trillion after two months of work is supposed to activate the further, automatic cuts, half from domestic programs, half from defense. Combined with the current reductions, the Pentagon would be looking at nearly $1 trillion in cuts to projected spending over 10 years.

"It can't happen. It can't happen," says Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a retired Army lieutenant colonel. "I spent 22 years in the military. Those are my friends out there, my nephew."

The congressional rank and file may be determined to spare defense and undo the automatic cuts, but there's hardly unanimity. Deficit-cutting tea partyers within the GOP side with liberal Democrats in signaling they're ready to allow military reductions. In addition, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have said they would abide by the consequences of the deficit-fighting law -- and they control what legislation moves forward.

Freshman Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a tea party favorite, even questioned the legitimacy of the outcry over the military reductions, from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta contending the cuts would be devastating to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., warning that they would "cripple our ability to properly train and equip our force, significantly degrading military readiness."

"I think we need to be honest about it," Paul said in an interview on CNN Sunday. "The interesting thing is there will be no cuts in military spending. This may surprise some people, but there will be no cuts in military spending because we're only cutting proposed increases. If we do nothing, military spending goes up 23 percent over 10 years. If we sequester the money, it will still go up 16 percent. So spending is still rising under any of these plans."

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the
planned Pentagon budget for 2021 would be some $700 billion, an
increase over the current level of about $520 billion. The cuts
already in the works plus the automatic reductions would trim the
projected amount by about $110 billion.

"It's not a decrease in the military budget. It's reducing the increase," said John Isaacs, executive director of Council for a Livable World and Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that while the
defense cuts would be "much deeper than we think are wise," the
administration would not back any effort to nullify the reductions
or change them.

That won't stop the defense hawks. Sens. John McCain of Arizona,
the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and
Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the panel, are working on
legislation that would undo the automatic defense reductions and
instead impose a 5 percent across-the-board reduction in government spending combined with a 10 percent cut in pay for members of Congress.

The Senate resumes work next week on a massive defense bill, a
possible candidate for any effort to rework or undo the cuts.

"It's a near certainty they will try to get out from under it," Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group advocating fiscal discipline, said of the automatic cuts. "It's equally certain they will damage their credibility if they do so."

The next 13 months play out in a politically charged atmosphere,
with Obama's Republican presidential rivals Mitt Romney and Rick
Perry already criticizing the commander in chief for the proposed
cuts in defense. Congressional Republicans and Democrats must also decide in the coming weeks whether to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and leave in place a payroll tax cut
enacted last year to prop up the economy.

One other costly question is whether to fix the Medicare payment
formula to prevent a nearly 30 percent cut in reimbursements to

At the end of 2012, Congress must decide whether to extend the
2001 and 2003 tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush.
Democrats want to allow them to expire for wealthy Americans,
Republicans want to extend them.

Under the automatic cuts, the Pentagon would face a 10 percent
cut in its $550 billion budget in 2013. On the domestic side,
education, agriculture and environmental programs would face cuts
of around 8 percent.

The law exempts Social Security, Medicaid and many veterans'
benefits and low-income programs. It also limits Medicare to a 2
percent reduction.

"It doesn't begin for 13 months," said Jim Kessler, vice president for policy at the centrist-Democratic group Third Way. "Between now and then is an eternity for Congress."
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram contributed
to this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • by Paul on Nov 22, 2011 at 06:51 AM
    The slowing the growth of military spending is not about national security. It is about local districts and spending at home for reps and senators. Because of this, the waste in military spending is beyond staggering. I wonder if they would cut the right things? Maybe NASCAR sponsorship? Equipment nobody wants? They do need the R&D.
  • by Reality rears it's ugly head. on Nov 22, 2011 at 05:30 AM
    America has to give up it's Empire - we just can't afford it anymore. Half our spending goes to maintain the military to maintian the empire. We borrow from other countries so we can keep troops in other countries plus we're are still fighting the USSR in 1979 in the budget. It took years for both parties to get us into this mess and it will take years of sacrifice to get out of it.
  • by Jack Location: Tallahassee on Nov 22, 2011 at 04:13 AM
    I do NOT want lawmakers to undo this back-up plan. Start cutting.
  • by mc on Nov 22, 2011 at 03:03 AM
    This super commitee was never supposed to work . There are Democrats on record stating such. s way Obama would have a platform to run on in 2012. He certainly can't run on his record. Amazingly the first things democrats allways put on the choppimg block when it comes to cutting the deficit is the military and police and emergency services . They never say what isn't going to be cut like SEIU , Community organizing spending and their own contributers. Their priority in spending is paying their base off so they will get reelected. Conservatives are trying to save this country from the Obama economy before we become a third world country.
    • reply
      by beammeup on Nov 22, 2011 at 07:25 AM in reply to mc
      I very rarely post anything, as I was always taught not to waste my time arguing with an idiot, but mc's post is so ignorant that I just couldn't help myself. Why cut the military? Maybe because it is BY FAR the largest discretionary (look it up) item in the budget. As for the SEIU, you have no idea what that is, do you? They can't cut it's funding, because IT DOESN'T GET ANY FUNDING. It is a union which receives no govt. money to begin with. Do yourself a favor and tune out Rush and his ilk (who are not conservatives at all) and educate yourself. Perhaps you wouldn't make yourself look so stupid quite as often. 75% of our national debt was added by Repub. presidents; sweep your own porch before blaming others. Idiot.
      • reply
        by Gerry on Nov 22, 2011 at 12:01 PM in reply to beammeup
        SEIU is Service Employees International Union. There is an article on its website about Harvard University janitors voting in favor of a contract. Janitors are doubtless part of the problem, not part of the solution. Rush Limbaugh has a high school education. Glenn Beck has a high school education.
  • by Georgia Boy Location: Cairo on Nov 22, 2011 at 02:33 AM
    In order to raise revenue we need to increase the number of taxpayers, not the tax rate on those that currently exist. Democrats, like a bunch of lemmings, followed Obamacare down the primrose path, passed it, and when companies put the pencil to the pending damage to their bottom lines started moving out of the country. Caterpillar, for one, announced it would cost them one million dollars annually, and not long ago announced they were building several plants in China, costing Americans those jobs. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Obamacare, as well as the other bailouts he has foisted on America, are the the reason we are in deep yogurt financially and continuing to try to tax the existing working people of this nation at higher rates isn't going to help one bit. Cut Federal spending, do away with the quagmire of rules and regulations non-business types keep foisting on businesses, cut business taxes, then get out of the way, and watch the recovery begin.
  • by Moishe on Nov 22, 2011 at 02:20 AM
    The Super Committee Democrats had their marching orders from the President. The fact that there was no agreement was preordained. The results had to support the presidents reelection plans.
  • by Gerry Location: Tallahassee on Nov 22, 2011 at 01:51 AM
    Allen West spent 22 years in the military and retired because he had no future in the armed forces. There aren't enough retired generals and admirals out there, so we need to quote somebody who reached a career dead-end as lieutenant colonel at age 43.
  • by Glenn Location: Tallahassee on Nov 21, 2011 at 02:25 PM
    As an independent voter and thinker who doesn't march according to either party's demands, it's a shame that we can't do what makes sense: raise revenue AND cut spending. Shame on those who won't budge as they are bringing our country down just to spite Obama. The more our country fails the better chances that those out of power will acquire the presidency, so goes their thinking.
    • reply
      by Reagan Republican on Nov 21, 2011 at 06:32 PM in reply to Glenn
      @ Glenn Your posts are always leaning left and interesting you list raise revenue before cut spending. Is $15 Trillion dollars, with over $4 Trillion added in less than 3 yrs, not enough spending to satisy everyone's demands along with Trillions spent every fiscal year? The over spending never ends in Congress and this is why America is facing the largest debt to GDP ratio since WWII. Revenue increases of over $500 Billion was on the table along with other revenue increases but was rejected. Why? Shame on those who would not accept revenue increases because they want MORE money out of the private sector to SPEND. TAX REFORM is a must along with TERM limits. John Kerry was on the super committee... really?
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