WASHINGTON – The White House budget office is recalculating how to apply automatic spending cuts for a handful of agencies, freeing up almost $4 billion for the Pentagon and another $1 billion or so for other agencies like the Homeland Security Department and NASA.
Capitol Hill aides familiar with the White House changes say the administration has identified almost $5 billion in cuts that can be restored under its reading of the arcane budget rules governing the across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration. The calculations would restore $5 billion of the scheduled $85 billion in automatic sequestration cuts.
The move comes amid increasing public pressure to find ways to lessen the impact of sequestration. Federal agencies are warning that the mandatory cuts could mean cutbacks in services. Last week, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed legislation giving the Federal Aviation Administration the ability to avoid furloughs that were causing flight delays by tapping money in other accounts.
The cuts officially began in March after Congress and Obama could not reach an agreement on a broader budget deal. The automatic cuts had been imposed under a hard-fought 2011 debt and budget pact. They require a 5 percent cut to domestic agency operating budgets and an 8 percent cut to the Pentagon. Social Security was exempted and cuts to Medicare were limited to a 2 percent cut to health care providers. Safety net programs like Medicaid, food stamps and school lunches for the poor also were exempted.