What a shocker: President Obama has missed another budget deadline. As Americans prepare to sail off the fiscal cliff, they might like to know where the budget will hammer fall. To answer those concerns, both the Senate and the House passed a bill over one month ago requiring that the president lay out his plan for slashing the nation’s spending.
Under pressure from those chambers’ near-unanimous votes, President Obama signed the Sequestration Transparency Act, which required that within thirty days he reveal to the country how he will deliver $109 billion in 2013 cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act. September 6, the date the report was due, has come and gone, leaving Americans in the dark.
Last year’s shameful tussle over the debt ceiling between a testy President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner has put the United States on automatic pilot. The resolution of that sorry negotiation – the Budget Control Act of 2011 – left it to a Congressional Joint Select Committee to find $1.2- $1.5 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade. Needless to say, lawmakers could not find common ground. As a result, the government now faces automatic spending reductions -- aka sequestration – amounting to $1.2 trillion over ten years. The budget cuts will commence January 2 unless Congress can pull itself together and recall that it has a duty to manage our country.
If there is no progress, President Obama will direct the spending cuts. How he will do so is uncertain; that such a role is unwelcome is clear as spring water. Letting voters in on his plan is equally unpleasant. President Obama has done a masterful job of avoiding tough decisions on how to reform Medicare or Social Security, or how to rein in our budget deficits, all the while mocking Republicans for not having “a plan.” He scampered out of town when his own hand-picked Simpson-Bowles Commission revealed their solutions, fearful of being tarred with politically risky proposals.
Now, because of the Transparency Act, the president has no choice but to detail his preferences. Politically, his choices are problematic. Announcing sharp and inevitable cuts to education or defense will be unpopular. At the same time, continuing to stall will recall the president’s earlier budgets that were unanimously rejected even by members of his own party as well as the failure of the Democrat-led Senate to pass a legally-required budget for the past three years.
The president is stuck. He might like to announce draconian measures – and pin the blame on GOP legislators -- that will alarm the country. At the same time, suggesting he will slash programs – and most discretionary spending will be sliced by 8.5 percent to 10 percent - like food safety or Head Start will rile his base and give great talking points to the Romney campaign.
Proposing that defense spending drop by an estimated $600 billion will make the president vulnerable to charges that he is willing to cede world leadership. He has already stripped the defense budget of some $350 billion in myriad weapons programs and proposed $487 billion in further reductions over the next decade. Few Americans want to see the U.S. emasculated.
The sequestration imperative was written into the Budget Act to force Congress to negotiate a bipartisan reduction to our soaring deficits and debt, which just recently topped $16 trillion. Failure to preempt the mandated automatic cuts will deliver a serious shock to our shaky economy. The cost could include the loss of a million or more jobs – at a time when the country already has desperately high unemployment.
Surely this country deserves better – both from the White House and from Congress. At the least, we need to know what’s in store.