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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.

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And if not Obama, then certainly a Democratic Senate that hasn’t passed a budget in three years.
“If we had done a budget for this country, and the Senate Budget Committee functioned in the way it was intended to function, then we wouldn't in this situation in the first place,” Senator Ayotte said on the Senate floor on Thursday.

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That’s certainly true, House conservatives say. But they’re quick to note that Republican leadership went along with the entire plot.

“I think it’s completely hypocritical for the people who voted to raise the debt ceiling, who voted for sequestration, now to be calling it ‘devastating,’” said Rep. Justin Amash (R) of Michigan, a libertarian lawmaker who frequently bucks his party for not being stringent enough on spending.

The sequester cuts were, by intent, so odious that they should never come into existence, according to the bipartisan group of legislators who put them into place after extensive negotiation with the White House.  The aim was to create a package of mandated cuts so vile that Congress would have no choice but to figure out a way to cut spending or raise taxes to substitute in their place. But some congressional Republicans thought this was a facade, a way to promise future cuts that Congress would find a way to avoid when their time was nigh.

With many of their own party decrying the defense cuts as an impossible outcome – and Democrats up in arms about cuts to discretionary spending that hit key Democratic priorities in social services – they have a sense of sad validation now.

“I hate to be the one to say “I told you so,”’ said Representative Landry, who proceeded to tell everyone ‘so’. “We told you we were going to get downgraded. It happened. We told you that the super committee was going to be a super failure. It happened.”

Even some of the tactics their party has taken to push avoiding the cuts leave House conservatives shaking their heads. As congressional Republican leaders heralded a study by a defense industry association group showing more than 1 million jobs could be lost as a result of the sequester, conservative House members were befuddled: “I thought we believed as Republicans that government spending doesn’t create jobs at all?” asked Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho.

“I am just so disappointed with Republicans that are making the argument that we cannot cut the military because military-defense spending creates jobs,” said Representative Labrador. “We need to spend money on the military because we need to defend our nation. We need to spend money on education because we need to educate our children. We need to spend money on welfare because we need to protect the most vulnerable. It’s not to create jobs or create a culture of dependency.”

In some ways, they argue, the sequester drama is the sort of out-of-touch, inside-the-beltway fiasco they were sent to Washington by their tea party supporters to change. “This is exactly what’s wrong with Washington and what’s wrong with America. There’s no accountability. We write a rule in Washington, of course against [conservative members’] wishes, and then when Washington doesn’t like the rule or they feel they can’t live with it, they just change it,” Landry said.

“But you know... [Americans] don’t get to change their rules,” he said. “When the bank calls, they don’t get to change their mortgage payment. They don’t get to call American Express and say ‘I really didn’t want to make these kind of payments.’ They don’t get to change their rules. They have to live by economic rules and it's time for this town to start doing the same.”


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