automatic spending cuts

The Sequestration Follies: How Washington Outsmarted Itself

Capitol-building

It seems every politician in Washington is up in arms over sequestration, the devastating automatic budget cuts on track to take effect March 1.

For weeks, lawmakers on both sides have been calling sequestration a "bad idea" and criticizing any proposals put forth by the opposing party.

Politicians aren't happy that sequestration not only would cut billions of dollars in federal spending, it would also slash the budget indiscriminately with across-the-board cuts.

Just today (Tuesday), President Barack Obama urged Congress to delay sequestration for the rest of the year or risk damaging the U.S. economy.

"It won't help the economy. It won't create jobs. It will visit hardship on a whole lot of people," President Obama said. "If Congress allows this meat-cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness; it will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research."

Listening to all the rhetoric, Americans with short memories might believe that those in Washington only have the best interests of the country at heart.

But the rest of us remember how this whole sequestration fiasco really happened. It was their idea - Republicans and Democrats, the White House and Congress. All guilty.

"The idea was that no sane person would allow such cuts to happen," Bob Schieffer, host of CBS News' "Face the Nation," said on that show Sunday. "Well, guess what. Even Washington managed to underestimate its own ineptitude."

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Automatic Spending Cuts: What's Set to be Slashed

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There was short-term optimism about the U.S. economy after the fiscal cliff deal, but there's still a looming problem for this year that can't be avoided: automatic spending cuts to government programs.

Because Congress did not reach an agreement on them, the automatic spending cuts - known as sequestration - are now delayed until March. Lawmakers will meet in March to try and restructure the cuts.

As of now, the cuts equal $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years. If nothing is done, there will be across-the-board preprogrammed reductions in a number of government programs, with the defense industry being hit the hardest with $55 billion.

For lawmakers wielding the knife, deciding where to slash budgets is tricky. If there are too many reduction-related layoffs, the automatic cuts could kick the nation back to a recession.

Here's a breakdown of what will be cut if Washington does nothing and lets the sequester go through as planned.

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Why We'll Be Talking About Sequestration For a Long Time

Another fiscal crisis lurks just on the horizon - a combination of the mandatory spending cuts known as sequestration and the need to raise the U.S. debt ceiling - and pundits are losing sleep trying to figure out what Washington is going to do about it.

They're wasting their time.

"The odds that Congress and the White House will ink a comprehensive deficit-reduction deal appear as long as they have been in more than two years, even though both parties acknowledge it's the only way to break the cycle of fiscal cliffs," Politico observed yesterday (Tuesday).

In all likelihood, Democratic and Republican leaders will make a last-minute deal that achieves the minimum necessary to keep the government running while putting off the harder decisions until later - three months, six months or even a year.

That's what they always do, although the script may change a little.

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What Automatic Spending Cuts Would do to U.S. Defense Industry

Military transport jet

The looming automatic spending cuts would include a major hit to the U.S. defense industry, slashing $500 billion from the Pentagon budget over 10 years.

The cuts, known as sequester, would result from a law enacted in summer 2011 following Congress' failed attempt to find a balanced way to trim federal spending. Policymakers in Washington sought to resolve the issue again in December after elections, but the only thing agreed upon then was a two-month extension.

With talks set to resume on March 1, expectations have dimmed among senior defense officials that U.S. President Barack Obama and Congress will succeed in mapping out an all-encompassing deficit-reduction plan before the massive spending cuts envelope the country.

As a result, the Defense Department is prepping to ground military aircraft and radio ships back to port should the substantial cuts come.

Reductions in ship and pilot training, flying hours and equipment maintenance would also have to be implemented. Plus, civilian hiring freezes, travel halts and a decrease to base spending are all expected.

The uncertainty surrounding what's ahead has brought widespread concern. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta voiced his unease during a recent Pentagon briefing.

"(We) have no idea what the hell's going to happen. All told, this uncertainty, if left unresolved by the Congress, will seriously harm our military readiness," Panetta said.

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Here are the Hefty Fiscal Cliff Automatic Spending Cuts

While much of the fiscal cliff debate has focused on possible tax increases, failure to reach a deal to avert the cliff could bring massive automatic spending cuts.

Barring an agreement between U.S. President Barack Obama and Congress, $1.2 trillion of spending cuts over the coming decade would begin taking effect Jan. 2.

The automatic spending cuts, known as "sequestration" - a result of Congress's 2011 negotiations to raise the debt ceiling - would total $109 billion in 2013, CBS News reported.

Here's a closer look at where the cuts would be targeted.

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