WASHINGTON – In a last-minute bid to minimize the most painful impacts of federal spending cuts – and perhaps blame – Republicans this week will propose allowing the government to choose where to cut.
They plan to introduce proposals to allow flexibility while maintaining the overall level of cuts mandated by a 2011 law.
The proposal is in response to the Obama administration’s repeated complaint that the law doesn’t allow managers the flexibility to shift the reductions from such areas as teachers or programs to help female victims of violence. It’s also a move to shelter the GOP from blame should the cuts cause widespread pain.
“As a leader, he should want as much flexibility as he can get from Congress,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association. “When did he ever go to his Cabinet secretaries, his agency heads and say, ‘What would be the least painful … way?’ ”
Democrats criticized the proposal, however, saying it would lock in the overall level of cuts – $85 billion for this fiscal year and $1.2 trillion over 10 years – which they argue would hurt the economy. They’ll propose smaller spending reductions supplemented by tax increases.
“The overwhelming majority of Americans want us to compromise before our neighbors, friends and family members get pink slips or notices that they can only work for a few days a week this month,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Both proposals are expected to be unsuccessful in a divided Congress, leaving lawmakers scrambling to act just days before the cuts are to start taking effect. As of Monday, the two sides were not negotiating. President Barack Obama will travel today to Newport News, Va., to talk about the impact of defense cuts.
The first round of automatic reductions – postponed from January – is estimated to be $85 billion. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that agencies will reduce spending by about $44 billion, with the remaining cuts coming in future years.
The White House has spent months describing in detail what the reductions might mean in each state and agency, from Head Start programs to law enforcement officers. The administration has blamed the impact in part on the fact that the 2011 law gave it no room to move money around to meet essential services.
“There is very little flexibility in terms of how to make those cuts happen,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said last week. The White House didn’t ask Congress to give the administration the flexibility to pick what programs would be slashed.
Obama has urged Congress to delay the reductions, even by a few months, by passing a package of modest spending cuts and additional tax revenue by eliminating tax loopholes that benefit certain industries or the wealthy.
Carney didn’t rule out that the president would sign legislation that allowed flexibility. But Carney dismissed suggestions Monday that additional flexibility would help alleviate the problem.
A bill that “introduced enough flexibility to do away with all the bad things doesn’t exist,” he said.