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Sequester blues: Congress faces buyer's remorse on defense cuts

With $1.2 trillion in mandated spending cuts set to start in 2013, lawmakers are scrambling to salvage $600 billion in defense spending. Meanwhile, there's plenty of blame to spread around for getting to this point.

By Staff writer / July 20, 2012

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) of Ohio talks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday. 'We have this sequester because the President of the United States, for his own convenience, only wanted to deal with the debt limit once before the election,' he said.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Republicans including presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the party’s leadership in Congress know who is to blame if defense spending gets hit come Jan. 1: President Obama.

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When Mr. Obama campaigned in Virginia last week, the Romney campaign sent out a slew of statements from surrogates calling the $55 billion hit to defense spending coming in 2013 some variation of “President Obama’s defense cuts.”

During a press conference of House Republican leaders on Wednesday, the list of those whacking the president for failing in one way or another to head off the pending defense cuts was long: House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon and Mr. Romney’s top liaison to Capitol Hill, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington.

In the Senate on that same day, two prospects for Romney’s vice presidential slot – Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) of new Hampshire and Sen. John Thune (R) of South Dakota – lambasted the president and the Senate’s Democratic leadership for a lack of leadership on the issue.

But there’s just one problem with that analysis: With the exception of Senator Ayotte, every member of Congress listed above voted for the legislation that put the sequester into place.

And that’s not something that’s lost on some of the GOP’s most conservative members on the Hill.
 
“When it comes to the issue of sequestration, it’s giving me a bit of a heartburn because those people who are complaining about it were those people who caused it,” said Rep. Jeff Landry (R) of Louisiana on Thursday at a forum with several other conservative members of Congress. “The people who voted to raise the debt ceiling caused the sequestration."

The defense reductions are roughly one half of what is known as the “sequester,” the automatic spending reductions mandated by the Budget Control Act, the compromise legislation that ended last summer’s debt-ceiling fight. That legislation increased America’s loan limit in exchange for imposing spending caps on the next 10 years of federal budgets and creating the “sequester” to slash government spending by predetermined amounts (about $1.2 trillion over the next decade) even further if Congress couldn’t agree to deeper cuts.

Congress couldn’t find a formula for offsetting those reductions and so they’re slated to hit the economy come Jan. 1.
 
To hear Republican leaders tell it, this is Obama’s fault.
 
“The sequester is happening because the president didn’t lead,” said Speaker Boehner on Thursday. “He wanted an increase in the debt ceiling, without spending cuts and reforms that are truly needed to reduce our deficit and our debt. He wanted an increase in the debt ceiling so that he wouldn’t have to deal with it twice before his election. So rather than agree to tax and entitlement reforms that everyone knows are needed, the president and Senate Democrats gave us the sequester, promising that the cuts would never actually happen.”

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