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White House: 'No wiggle room' in sequesters

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The consequences of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction's failure are supposed to be extreme under the rules laid out in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (.pdf). But since the Super Committee's Nov. 21 announcement that it did not reach a bipartisan agreement for cutting federal spending by $1.5 trillion through 2021, some lawmakers have suggested the penalty could be subject to tweaking.

Under the Budget Control Act, the committee's inability recommend legislation means the government is obligated to make across-the-board spending cuts worth $1.2 trillion; however, those cuts wouldn't go into effect until January 2013.

Some have estimated the across-the-board cuts would translate to $600 billion in defense cuts and $600 billion in Medicare and domestic spending cuts. But the Obama administration will allow "no wiggle room" or reweighting of the cuts, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Nov. 28.

"Congress voted to impose this sequester to hold its own feet to the fire, to get it to act," said Carney. "The whole purpose of the design of the sequester was to make it so onerous for everybody that it would never come to pass. To change it so that it is not so onerous only relieves pressure on Congress. And obviously Congress needs an immense amount of pressure to get positive things done." 

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said during a Nov. 27 broadcast of ABC's This Week that Congress may attempt to revise the cuts so that they don't affect the Defense Department as much. 

"I think there's a broad consensus that too much of the cuts are weighted on our defense's capabilities. And it would cut in deeply our ability to defend this nation. So, I think it's important that we change the configuration," said Toomey.

"I would be surprised if the president would simply veto every effort to make any changes," he added.

President Obama said he would do just that in his comments shortly after the Super Committee issued its Nov. 21 statement. Obama said he would veto any legislation that seeks to avoid the across-the-board spending cuts triggered by the Super Committee's failure.

Toomey told This Week he thought the president's statement was "ambiguous," possibly referring to Obama's comment that "one way or another" the deficit would be cut by $2.2 trillion. The $2.2 trillion figure takes into account $917 billion in cuts already passed into law by the Budget Control Act.

Meanwhile, Americans' approval of Congress was already at an all-time low of 13 percent, but the Super Committee's failure and the likelihood that programs could be on the chopping block could dig lawmakers deeper.

Fifty-five percent of Americans believe the Republican and Democratic members of the Super Committee are equally to blame for its failure, according to a Nov. 21 Gallup poll of approximately 1,000 American adults contacted randomly by telephone. However, 24 percent said Republicans were to blame, 15 percent said Democrats were to blame and 7 percent had no opinion on the subject.

Fifty-four percent of Americans think the committee members should have compromised their views on taxes, spending and the debt in order to reach an agreement, according to Gallup.

For more:
- see the Gallup poll

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