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White House details $100 billion in automatic budget cuts

A 394-page report details line by line what will happen if Congress fails to act to head off about $100 billion in spending cuts scheduled to begin Jan. 2.
/ Source: The New York Times

Army operations and maintenance would lose nearly $7 billion next year, and the Navy more than $4 billion under a looming series of automatic cuts in federal spending. Educational achievement and special education programs would be shaved by $2.3 billion. Hospital insurance would fall $5.6 billion.

And, particularly relevant at a moment that world attention is focused on the continuing attacks on United States embassies and consulates abroad, diplomatic programs and embassy security would lose $1.2 billion.

These are part of the findings by the White House in a new 394-page report that was delivered Friday to Congress, detailing line by line what will happen next year if Washington fails to act to head off about $100 billion automatic defense and domestic spending cuts scheduled to begin Jan. 2. The Obama administration had been reluctant to show its hand on the true impact of so-called sequestration, but once forced to do so by Congress, the White House budget office did not scrimp on the details.

“As the administration has made clear, no amount of planning can mitigate the effect of these cuts. Sequestration is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument. It is not the responsible way for our nation to achieve deficit reduction,” the report concludes.

The Budget Control Act of July 2011 established automatic cuts as the bludgeon that was supposed to force a special, bipartisan committee to come to an agreement on deficit reduction of at least $1 trillion over the next decade. The committee failed, with Republicans refusing to meet Democrats’ demands to raise taxes in exchange for cuts to domestic programs and entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.

Lawmakers are still hopeful that Congress and the White House can come up with a way to avoid the cuts, but no action will come before the November elections, with the outcome of the voting having some effect on what any agreement would look like.

For now, the two parties remain at odds, with each trying to blame the other for the automatic cuts about to come.

Under the terms of those cuts, most defense programs face a 9.4 percent cut, while most domestic programs would be sliced by 8.2 percent. Medicare would be trimmed by 2 percent, while other entitlements — not counting Social Security — would be sliced as much as 10 percent.

Congressional Republicans initially sought a detailed accounting of the cost of the planned defense cuts, which the White House had resisted. Then Democrats joined in, pushing to see the impact on domestic programs as well, and Congress ultimately passed legislation almost unanimously demanding a written report.

As late as Friday, Congressional aides were skeptical that the White House would produce the details that lawmakers had wanted. But the White House did, down to the $4 million the Library of Congress stands to lose for its books for the blind and handicapped.

Pointedly, the first items on the ledger are cuts to the legislative branch. Inquiries and investigations — a mainstay of the Republican House — would lose $11 million. Salaries and expenses in the House of Representatives would drop by $101 million.

Big cuts would hit the military. Defense Department operations and maintenance would lose $3.9 billion next year alone. Pentagon health care would be cut by $3.3 billion. Air Force and Navy aircraft procurement would be sliced by more than $4.2 billion. And funding to strengthen Afghanistan’s security force the year before the United States plans to withdraw its own forces would fall by $1.3 billion.

Politically, the pain would be spread to all parts of the spectrum. The National Institutes of Health would lose $2.5 billion. Rental assistance for the poor would fall by $2.3 billion; food stamps would lose $543 million.

Republican domestic priorities would also take a hit. The Federal Bureau of Investigations would lose $735 million for salaries and expenses. The Customs and Border Patrol budget would fall by $823 million, and the budget for the border fence — virtual and physical — would drop $33 million.

This story, "White House Report Details Effects of Automatic Budget Cuts," first appeared in The New York Times.