Congress Still Waiting for Obama’s Report on Automatic Cuts

The Obama administration hasn’t told congressional leaders when they’ll get a report spelling out how billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts will be carried out beginning Jan. 2.

Today is the deadline set in legislation signed by President Barack Obama on Aug. 7 that required the Office of Management and Budget to issue a detailed report on how it would comply with last year’s budget-control law.

“Despite repeated inquires, the White House has yet to tell us when they are sending up the report,” John Ashbrook, a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, said. “They’ve missed their budget deadlines in the past, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they missed this deadline that has also been written into law.”

The White House press office didn’t respond to e-mailed requests for comment.

The automatic spending cuts totaling about $1.2 trillion through 2021 were part of a deal between the White House and Congress after talks failed last year on a bipartisan plan to curb the nation’s increasing debt. They are set to take effect Jan. 2 unless Congress acts.

The budget office report is supposed to outline what how the cuts would affect government programs, expressed in both dollars and percentages.

Exempt Programs

It’s also supposed to list which programs are exempt. Lawmakers put mandatory programs such as Social Security off limits, and the administration has said military pay and veterans’ health care programs should be left alone. Other programs, such as student loans, are subject to special rules for determining how the budget ax would fall.

The cuts would amount to $109 billion next year, coming equally out of defense and nondefense spending. Democrats are insisting that Republicans accept some tax increases in exchange for altering the defense cuts. No proposal to avoid the reductions has gained support.

A Bloomberg Government analysis estimates estimated that sequestration would cut 9.6 percent from non-exempt Pentagon accounts, including for the war in Afghanistan, and 9.1 percent from nondefense discretionary spending.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said Obama should “follow the law he signed and tell the American people how he plans to implement, or replace, these devastating cuts.”

The automatic cuts, known as sequestration in Washington, were designed last year to make Jan. 2 cuts so politically painful that both sides would want to avoid them. So far, that’s not happened.

“Sequestration is bad policy, was never meant to be implemented and should be avoided through the enactment of bipartisan balanced deficit legislation,” Jeffrey Zients, the White House budget director, told Congress Aug. 1. “That is why the president believes that enacting a balanced deficit-reduction package that would avoid sequestration should be the focus of Congress’s efforts.”

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