WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama warned Friday that the federal government will face dire budget cuts – nearly 10 percent of the nation’s defense and domestic spending – unless Congress acts later this year to reduce the $16 trillion debt.
A report that the Office of Management and Budget issued Friday says the reductions to nearly all government programs would be “deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments and core government functions.”
The automatic cuts – known inside the Beltway as sequestration – would lead to fewer FBI and Border Patrol agents, air traffic controllers and park rangers. Housing and food assistance for low-income families would be cut, and medical research would suffer. They also would delay new equipment and repairs for the military.
“For 13 months, Congress has had the opportunity to take the steps necessary to prevent the sequester from kicking in, but has failed to do so,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a member of the Senate Budget Committee. “I hope this report serves as a wake-up call.”
The report quickly became fodder on the campaign trail, where Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney have traded barbs for months on which party is to blame for the impending cuts and escalating deficit.
Republicans and Democrats agree that the reductions would be devastating, but they disagree on what to do about them. Democrats want some cuts combined with higher taxes on the wealthy. Republicans oppose tax increases.
“With only a few months before they’re scheduled to go into effect, President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats have taken no action whatsoever to avert these cuts,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Friday in a statement. “It is neither credible nor conscionable that our commander in chief would point to his budget – which received zero votes in both the House and Senate – as a legitimate plan to stop these dangerous defense cuts.”
The cuts are the result of a bipartisan deal struck last year to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Congress agreed that if a 12-member committee failed to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next decade, the cuts would come from government spending. The first round is set to start in January.
In releasing the report, the Obama administration reiterated that the president has put forward his own plan, and it blamed Congress, specifically Republicans, for failing to act. Obama urged them again to do so before the end of the year.
“Republicans have, unfortunately, made clear that they would rather see cuts than ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a single dollar more in taxes,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “That’s not a responsible approach. It is not a common-sense approach. It is not a balanced approach.”
Obama was required to submit a report to Congress on the proposed cuts last week. Senior administration officials said an extra week was needed to produce a thorough report.
The 400-page document details for the first time which of 1,200 programs would be affected.
Most defense programs would be cut by 9.4 percent, while domestic programs would see an 8.2 percent reduction. Administration officials couldn’t say how many federal employees would lose their jobs, but they said the cuts would have a “significant impact on the federal workforce.”
The across-the-board budget cuts would hit ordinary Americans in sundry ways.
Financial assistance provided by the Office of Federal Student Aid would fall by $140 million. A program that the Department of Health and Human Services administers to provide heating assistance to low-income families would be slashed by $285 million.
Children and family services programs run by HHS would lose $812 million. The Agricultural Disaster Relief Fund, which was in the news during the brutal summer drought, stands to lose $104 million in funding.
Other important functions of government also would be affected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would see funding fall by $464 million; the National Institutes of Health, $2.5 billion; the Transportation Security Administration, $429 million for airport security measures. And the list would go on and on.
Obama officials say the law – not the administration – dictates which items would be affected. Certain programs, such as veterans’ benefits and food stamps, would be exempt. Medicare benefits are also exempt, but Medicare providers would take a 2 percent hit.
On Friday, groups that the cuts would affect began lobbying Congress – again – to prevent them.
“Congress must take action to avert these cuts and protect our nation’s ability to prevent and save lives from cancer,” said Christopher W. Hansen, the president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
Congress is on track to pass a bill to finance government spending through March, but it doesn’t plan to address the issue of cuts until after the elections.