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Weekly Column - Wicker: Sequestration Deadline Marks Unmet Budget Challenges


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For the past year and a half, America has inched toward sequestration -- a term used to describe automatic, across-the-board cuts falling heavily on our nation's defense. The cuts became law as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 to force difficult but necessary decisions about out-of-control government spending. The expectation was that Congress and the President would work together to achieve meaningful deficit reduction.

In the days leading up to the March 1 deadline, President Obama has tried to heighten fears about sequestration's impact, holding campaign-like rallies and releasing reports projecting worst-case scenarios. Most Americans realize that sequestration is not a smart plan for lowering the federal deficit. Meanwhile, last-minute efforts by the President to earn press attention and blame Republicans have wasted precious time to put in place a better solution. At a moment for leadership, the President has turned to political theater.

"Moving the Goal Posts'

Bob Woodward reported recently in The Washington Post that sequestration was not devised by Congress -- as the President has claimed -- but by White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors and then-budget director Jack Lew, the new Treasury Secretary. Woodward goes on to write that the President is "moving the goal posts" in calling on Congress to replace spending cuts with tax hikes, which he previously agreed would not be part of the sequester.

Protecting Troops, National Security

I have long supported replacing sequestration with sensible budget savings that effectively rein in government spending. Sequestration's indiscriminate cuts disproportionately affect our country's defense and pose a serious threat to national security and military readiness. In Mississippi, nearly 10,000 civilian workers from the Department of Defense could be furloughed, and the local economic impact could be widespread. As I noted in the Republican weekly address I delivered last year, sequestration "should be an opportunity for both parties to work together now to avoid permanent harm to our troops and to our security."

The stakes are too high to allow crisis after crisis to grip Washington because the President and Senate Democrats refuse to address the government's spending problem. Congressional Republicans have twice passed legislation in the House of Representatives to replace sequestration with reasonable alternatives. Similar Republican proposals have been introduced in the Senate. At the very least, the Department of Defense should have the flexibility to ease the impact of the cuts with some discretion over where they fall.

Washington's Spending Problem

Under sequestration, $44 billion would be cut from the budget over the remainder of this fiscal year, a reduction of about 1.2 percent. And yet, the government will still spend more than it did last year. Federal spending is expected to grow by an extraordinary 67 percent over the next 10 years.

It is not reasonable for the President and Senate Democrats to demand more taxpayer dollars when the Government Accountability Office has identified billions in wasteful federal spending. Tax increases took effect for the majority of Americans only eight weeks ago.

Putting America on a sustainable financial path was the goal when sequestration became law, and that remains the goal now. American families and small businesses have had to tighten their budgets and prioritize their spending during difficult financial times. They are right to demand that Washington do the same.

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