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Long-awaited WH report spells out deep sequestration cuts

WASHINGTON — The White House for the first time offered a detailed look at billions in automatic budget cuts scheduled for January, warning in a report released Friday that alternatives must be found to prevent the crippling of thousands of military and nondefense programs.

For the Defense Department, the scenario would mean roughly a 10 percent cut in military spending, except for personnel accounts. The report doesn't detail exactly what those lost dollars would mean in terms of lost programs or purchases, but does give a top-line view of the size of the cuts. 

Defense Health programs would lose about $3.3 billion in funding. Army purchases of combat vehicles, weapons and ammunition would be trimmed by $505 million. The Navy would lose almost $4.4 billion in ship and aircraft procurement money.

The four services’ operations and maintenance accounts would be reduced by more than $18 billion combined.

The automatic cuts, also known as sequestration, were enacted by Congress last summer as part of a larger deficit-reduction plan.

In total, the spending curbs would take away $54.6 billion in planned military spending, the first installment on a 10-year deficit-reduction plan to reduce defense funds by about $500 billion.

The White House called it a potential disaster.

“The administration does not support the indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts in this report,” one senior administration official said. “We believe they should never be implemented.”

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When Congress adopted the Budget Control Act, it included the sequestration cuts — more than $1 trillion in budget trims over the next decade, spread evenly between defense and nondefense accounts — as a poison pill designed to force a bipartisan deficit-reduction panel to find alternatives.

But that attempt to force compromise failed. For the last nine months, lawmakers and Pentagon leaders have decried the looming defense cuts as dangerous and nonsensical, but Congress has not been able to agree on an alternative.

The 394-page report released Friday lists hundreds of exempt spending accounts across the government — including all of the Department of Veterans Affairs — but White House officials have insisted that the law limits how much they can mitigate the effects of the automatic budget reductions.

“Sequestration is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument,” the report says. “It is not the responsible way for our nation to achieve deficit reduction.”

House Armed Services Committee officials criticized the report as lacking any real detail, failing to explain how individual programs and offices will be impacted.

They said the White House is dodging its responsibility to inform the public about how harmful the automatic cuts will be, and has failed to direct the Defense Department to properly prepare for a worst-case scenario.

On Thursday, House Republicans passed legislation calling for the president to replace the automatic defense cuts with nonmilitary trims. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., noted it was the fifth measure passed by the chamber this year aimed at preventing “devastating” cuts to national security programs.

“It is my sincere hope that this most recent action by the House will compel the President to finally do his part to end the sequestration crisis and bring his party in the Senate to a conference committee,” he said in a statement.

Like the previous House GOP proposals to avert sequestration, the measure is unlikely to gain traction in the Democratically controlled Senate. Obama and Capitol Hill Democrats have rejected proposals that would shift all of the automatic cuts onto domestic programs to save military accounts.

Meanwhile, defense contractors have begun warning employees that deep cuts to military funds in the middle of the fiscal year could jeopardize tens of thousands of jobs.

The Congressional Budget Office has warned that sequestration could result in massive layoffs among Defense Department civilian employees and lead to a new recession.

The exemption for military personnel accounts means that military paychecks won’t be affected by sequestration. Officials said that the Department of Defense would also be able to shift funds to ensure that operations in Afghanistan and “critical military readiness capabilities” will not be hurt.

But the report states that “sequestration would result in a reduction in readiness of many non-deployed units, delays in investments in new equipment and facilities, cutbacks in equipment repairs, declines in military research and development efforts, and reductions in base services for military families.”

Beyond the military, the report says sequestration would lead to a 2 percent reduction in funding for Medicaid and other domestic health programs, and an 8 percent cut in nonexempt, nondefense programs.

White House officials also noted the report offers only preliminary estimates, since operating budgets for every department have not been finalized by Congress.

Congress isn’t expected to act on any of those budgets — or alternatives to sequestration — until after the November elections.

shanel@stripes.osd.mil
Twitter: @LeoShane

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