Lawmakers Play Blame Game On Defense Cuts
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
At the rate we're going, there may be plenty of news before those debates. Today, the White House is expected to release a list of budget cuts totaling about $100 billion. At the end of last year's debt ceiling battle, Congress voted to either agree on deficit reductions or these big automatic across-the-board cuts known as sequestration would go into effect. They didn't agree, so here we are.
As NPR's David Welna reports, many Republicans who voted for sequestration now oppose it.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Yesterday on the floor of the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor railed against the automatic spending cuts that he and three-quarters of his fellow Republicans voted for, along with half the House Democrats, as part of last year's debt ceiling deal.
REPRESENTATIVE ERIC CANTOR: Under the sequester, unemployment would soar from its current level up to nine percent, setting back any progress the economy has made.
WELNA: Sequestration would carve 10 percent out of next year's defense budget and another eight percent from other government services, such as Head Start and the federal courts. Earlier this week on NBC's "Meet the Press," GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney blamed both President Obama and GOP lawmakers for the sequestration scheme.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")
MITT ROMNEY: I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it. I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it.
WELNA: One Republican who went along was Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. He disagrees with Romney that voting for sequestration was a mistake.
SENATOR SCOTT BROWN: What's a mistake is the select committee didn't do their job. That's the mistake.
WELNA: Romney got a similar brush-off from House Speaker John Boehner on the day 13 months ago that Boehner voted for the automatic spending cuts. Asked about Romney's criticism then, that the sequester put defense spending on the table, here's how Boehner responded...
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Listen, I've got a big job to do here. Those running for president have their own aspirations.
WELNA: That same day, here's what Boehner told CBS.
(SOUNDBITE OF CBS NEWS BROADCAST)
BOEHNER: When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, you know, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I'm pretty happy.
WELNA: What Boehner got was a commitment from Congress and President Obama that for every dollar the debt ceiling would be raised, projected deficits would have to be reduced by a dollar. Scott Lilly is a former House Democratic appropriations staff chief. He says Boehner was in fact forced by members of his own caucus to demand the dollar-for-dollar deal that's led to sequestration.
SCOTT LILLY: I think despite his diligent efforts, the speaker was rebuffed at every turn by the Tea Party conservatives within the Republican conference, who dictated that there had to be, you know, strong spending cuts.
WELNA: Earlier this week, Boehner blamed President Obama for the dreaded automatic spending cuts.
BOEHNER: The president didn't want his reelection inconvenienced by another fight over a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling. And that's why we have it.
WELNA: Democrats disagree. Here's Majority Leader Harry Reid this week on the Senate floor.
SENATOR HARRY REID: Republicans, including vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, would do well to remember they voted for the sequester.
WELNA: Indeed, on the day last year that the House approved sequestration as part of the debt ceiling deal, now-vice presidential contender Paul Ryan declared the plan a good step in the right direction.
PAUL RYAN: To my friends on the left, I think they would like take comfort in the fact that the way these spending cuts are designed and the way the fact - the way the sequester is designed. To my friends on the right, we are cutting spending.
WELNA: Buyer's remorse has since set in. Last night, House Republicans passed legislation requiring President Obama to come up with an alternative to the automatic defense cuts without raising anyone's taxes. The bill has no prospect of passing the Senate. Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen called it a charade.
REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: There's agreement in this House that allowing the meat-axe sequester cuts to take place would really - be a really stupid thing to do. There's agreement on that. The issue is, how do we replace that?
WELNA: That question won't likely be answered until after the election. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.