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White House Details 2013 Cuts If Congress Doesn't Avert Fiscal Cliff

The White House Friday released a report detailing, in part, what life would look like on the other side of the fiscal cliff, which could occur at the end of the year.

Under orders from Congress, the administration detailed exactly how it would administer painful cuts to both defense and domestic programs that were ordered under last year's budget deal.

These cuts aren't supposed to happen. As the Office of Management and Budget explains in its introduction to the report, the threat of cuts is meant to spur action:

"The specter of harmful across-the-board cuts to defense and nondefense programs was intended to drive both sides to compromise. The sequestration itself was never intended to be implemented."

But that's not stopping them from becoming fodder for the ongoing presidential campaign.

The cuts, known as a sequester, are sort of a potential punishment Congress imposed on itself in last year's Budget Control Act. The idea, as White House press secretary Jay Carney pointed out in Friday's briefing, was to make them so distasteful that Congress would agree to a better way to reduce the deficit.

"The sequester was designed to be bad policy," said Carney. "To be onerous. To be objectionable to both Democrats and Republicans."

But finding a more palatable solution hasn't happened. At least not yet.

And when the White House demurred at offering details about how it would administer the cuts that were ordered by the law, Congress insisted, passing a second law requiring Friday's report.

The result is nearly 400 pages of details of the programs that would get knifed, those that wouldn't, and by how much. For example:

  • The National Institutes of Health would lose $2.5 billion.
  • The Food Safety and Inspection Service would see an $86 million loss.
  • Customs and Border Protection's budget would be cut by $712 million.

But the biggest concern, by far, has been over the scheduled 9.4 percent cut to most defense programs. Republicans — who overwhelmingly voted for the bill that put the cuts into play — have nonetheless been blaming President Obama for failing to cancel them.

"The president supports sequestration, and has done nothing to halt the defense budget cuts, which will limit the capabilities of our armed forces." Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who voted against the bill, said on the House floor Friday morning.

There's still time to cancel the cuts, but it's running out. House leaders have announced that after next week, they will recess until Election Day. That means the only opportunity to hammer out a deal to prevent the automatic cuts will come in a post-election lame duck session.

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