HASC Chair McKeon: Sequester Threat ‘Not Strong Enough’ to Break Deadlock
“I think sequestration is going to kick in March 1,” said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
McKeon, a longtime defense hawk, has been fighting to stop the automatic spending cuts even though he voted for the Budget Control Act of 2011, which set in motion the process that is leading up to the March 1 deadline.
During a meeting with reporters Feb. 15, McKeon said he is still hopeful that once the cuts go into effect, they will stir enough of a backlash to drive both sides to the table. “Then people will see what sequestration really is,” said McKeon.
He defended his vote for the Budget Control Act on grounds that passing it was, at the time, the only way to avert a debt-ceiling crisis and a government shutdown. McKeon then believed that the threat of a $1.2 trillion sequester over 10 years would be scary enough to force a budget deal before the deadline. He acknowledged that he misjudged how deeply dug-in both sides were.
“We haven't been able to get past the politics,” said McKeon. “The  election further forged people into positions.”
The impending cuts would trim every discretionary spending account — except military personnel — by nearly 9 percent. Whereas the consequences of such reductions have been characterized as “devastating” to military and civilian government operations, they have not lit enough of a fire under the political leadership, McKeon lamented. “The idea was to make it strong enough to force us to do something. But it wasn’t strong enough.”
As the deadline nears, the chasm between Democrats and Republicans only has grown wider. President Obama and Democratic lawmakers have called for additional tax revenues and more modest spending cuts — smaller than the sequester — to help fuel economic growth and tame the rising national debt. Republicans have drawn a red line against any further tax increases and have offered proposals to cut entitlement programs and trim the federal workforce by 10 percent over 10 years as a “down payment” that would offset the sequester cuts.
McKeon predicts that once the cuts become reality, lawmakers will begin to feel the pain politically as they hear from outraged constituents. Right now, he said, Americans who do not live “inside the Potomac” are mostly unaware of what lies ahead, he said. In McKeon’s home district in California, people are distracted by gun control and immigration debates, he said. “All these balloons are up in the air now. But when the ax falls on March 1, we’ll be focused back on sequestration.”
A stock market plunge set off by government cuts would get the immediate attention of elected officials, he said. “When the temperature rises, I hope this will force us to come to the table to try to fix this thing.”
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