A federal law pushed by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., required the Obama administration to publicly disclose exactly how the so-called sequestration cuts would hit various federal programs. But Thune complained Wednesday that White House officials ignored his Sequestration Transparency Act even after President Obama signed it into law.
Obama signed the bill on Aug. 7, 2012, and that gave his administration 30 days to produce a list of cuts, which were originally set to take effect at the beginning of 2013. A bargain between the White House and Congress pushed the deadline back to Friday. Thune's bill was overwhelmingly backed in Congress, where just two votes were cast against it.
“After ignoring the law, the White House waited until the 11th hour and on Sunday evening issued media propaganda on state-by-state impacts,” Thune said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters.
The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline news agency reported that South Dakota would be the state hardest hit by the cuts, which are required to be made across-the-board for many federal agencies, including the Defense Department.
Leading elected officials have complained that the cuts will not be done with any consideration of priorities, but an entrenched partisan battle over whether to raise taxes and how much to cut spending has led to this most recent standoff.
“This isn’t how we should be handling our spending addiction in the federal government, and this is not how we should handle a $3.5 trillion enterprise,” Thune said.
Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., also had harsh words for the sequester cuts Wednesday on the Senate floor.
“Carpet bombing the federal budget with across-the-board spending cuts is neither wise nor prudent,” Johnson said, according to a transcript provided by his office. “It’s about as smart as a surgeon performing heart surgery with an axe. There will be casualties, and veterans and military families will be among those casualties.”
In South Dakota, Johnson said, approximately 1,000 Defense Department civilian employees are slated to be furloughed, reducing gross pay by about $6.3 million.
Thune said he doubts some of the “scare tactics” White House officials have been warning the public about, such as furloughs for federal workers.
“They keep talking, we aren’t going to have air traffic controllers out there. That’s not true,” Thune said.
Like most Republicans, Thune opposes any tax increases as a way to avert these cuts, but he would support a bill to give the president discretion in how the cuts are applied.
“We would give him the authority to redistribute this in a way that has fewer impacts,” Thune said.
The term “cuts” is really a misnomer, Thune said, as federal spending will still increase year-over-year, just not by as much as planned.
“We actually spend more, as we go forward, because this all goes to the ‘baseline,’ which assumes certain increases in federal spending every year,” Thune said.
“In terms of real spending, it does go up. It does represent a reduction to what we know in Washington knows as the spending baseline.”
The $85 billion in cuts to federal agencies for the current fiscal year represent a 2.4 percent cut to the overall budget.
“Because some areas of the budget are walled off, the reductions are deeper in some areas,” Thune said. Nonetheless, he believes the cuts don’t have to be so dramatic.
“I’m starting to think, if we can’t do this, what can we do? Our debt is growing at $1 trillion a year; we spend 40 percent more than we take in. How are we going to solve big fiscal problems?” Thune said.
Thune said he reluctantly voted for the plan that led to the sequestration cuts, and while he doesn’t like how the cuts are likely to land, he said he probably prefers it to tax increases and more spending.
“Our economy suffers a lot more if we fail to address federal spending and if we raise taxes,” Thune said.