McKeon Admits Law That May Trigger Sequester Was a Mistake
Sequestration — which would take $500 billion beyond current proposals from the Defense Department budget over the next decade — was designed to be “so bad that it’s not going to happen,” he told Washington, D.C.-based reporters.
McKeon responded to a question of whether the initial legislation was a mistake. “I would say, yes,” he said. “I can easily say that now because we’re past the pressure that was forcing us to vote on that. We put ourselves in a very, very bad position.”
McKeon said Republican leadership, especially House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, “assured” members that the threat of sequestration would force lawmakers from both parties to reach a compromise on government spending reductions.
A year after the bipartisan “supercommittee” failed to find the requisite reductions, nothing has been done to curb sequestration, which Defense Department officials have said would be “disastrous” for national defense.
For that reason, many of the Republican members of Congress who voted in favor of the Budget Control Act have become sequestration’s most outspoken opponents.
“I think the supercommittee tried, but there is a lack of political will in this town to get things done,” McKeon said.
The gamble backfired, leaving a politically hamstrung Congress with little time to work out a solution. With less than six months to go before the November elections, McKeon said, “self preservation seems to be the most important thing” for members whose seats are contested.
“To think that we have gone as far we have with sequestration during a time when we are at war, just boggles my mind,” he said.
That lack of political will is hampering efforts to de-trigger the automatic cuts, he said. At best, McKeon said Congress would decide to delay the enactment of the cuts until the next Congress is seated. The lame-duck body convening after November’s election likely won't be able to find a solution to such a complex and polarizing problem, he said.
“The only thing I see that’s going to happen is we come into a lame-duck session and we push it down the road,” McKeon said. “I want to get it solved now, because it’s already impacting people’s lives.”
Industry is already preparing for the potential economic consequences, McKeon said. Waiting to delay action until after November could cause some businesses to preemptively layoff scores of workers or reduce production whether the cuts are enacted or not, he said.
McKeon related a conversation he had with Bob Stevens, chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corp. in which Stevens discussed the impact of sequestration. At least 10 percent of the company’s 126,000 workers could be laid off if the automatic cuts are not de-triggered or delayed before October, McKeon said.
“I know there are jobs out there that these defense companies would be hiring for, [but] they’re not,” McKeon said. “I know that they’re freezing jobs. I know that they’re laying off people.”
McKeon called for a decision to be made as soon as possible. Much of the pressure put on industry could be alleviated if companies did not have to prepare for cuts to take effect in January, he said.
“Why put people through that?” he said. “If that’s what we’re going to do anyway, let’s do it now. Let’s take some pressure off these people.”
As HASC chairman, McKeon is focused on the impact of sequestration on the Defense Department budget, which he said would take a disproportionately large hit compared to other departments.
The reality of sequestration hasn't hit home for other non-defense sectors and programs, he said. “Sooner or later, someone is going to start thinking about the $500 billion in social spending that’s going to be cut,” he said.