Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

White House Is Taking the Fight to Avoid Sequester Beyond the Beltway

“Republicans in the House have voted — twice — to replace President Obama’s sequester with smarter spending cuts,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, referring to measures the House passed in the last Congress. “The White House needs to spend less time explaining to the press how bad the sequester will be and more time actually working to stop it.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement that Obama hasn’t come forward with any alternative plan to cut spending.

“Rather than issuing last-minute press releases on cuts to first responders or troop training or airport security, he should propose smarter ways to cut Washington spending,” McConnell said. “After all, Washington spending, even with the sequester, is bigger than it was when he got here. There are smarter ways to reduce the size of government. And with the national debt well over $16 trillion, it’s time for the White House to stop spending all its time campaigning and start finding smarter ways to reduce the deficit.”

Congressional Republicans have been demanding that any plan to avoid the sequester make budget savings exclusively through spending reductions and savings in entitlement programs. Arguing that Obama got his revenue in the deal to sidestep the fiscal cliff in January, they are resisting White House insistence that spending cuts be balanced with further revenue.

While some departments and agencies have outlined protocols for managing the sequester, Werfel indicated that a lot of the advance work has not been completed less than a week before March 1.

“Every agency right now is working diligently ... on what we call a sequester implementation plan,” he said. “There are constraints to what an agency can do in taking this across-the-board $85 billion cut. The way the law is written, it has to be taken from a percentage cut from every project, program and activity.”

Werfel added that while agencies continued to look at reprogramming options, officials have “come to the conclusion over and over again that these reprogramming authorities and any flexibilities at agencies disposal just isn’t enough to fully protect mission.”

Some Republicans contend that the crisis over the sequester is being overblown, while others say the cuts are the strong medicine needed to tame the federal deficit. Senior administration officials led by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Education Secretary Arne Duncan appeared on the Sunday morning television news programs to highlight the effects of a sequester on core government programs, including air traffic control.

Senate Democrats plan to bring to the floor this week a $110 billion package that would forestall the sequester’s spending cuts through a mix of tax provisions aimed at collecting more revenue from the wealthy, future defense spending reductions and the termination of the direct payments program that provides subsidies to farmers. Republicans have already said they consider that proposal to be a partisan stunt, signaling lawmakers are not near any agreement and people need to brace for the reality of spending cuts and furloughs.

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