The sequestration pain game
The little secret of sequestration is that the Obama administration could fix much of the problem pretty quickly. But it doesn't want to.
Congress tells executive branch agencies how much money they can spend and how they should spend it. Sometimes the instructions are broad and sometimes they are quite detailed. Cabinet secretaries and lower-downs are bound to work within those congressional directives.
But if Cabinet officers want to spend the money differently, there is a long-established process for doing so: They ask Congress for permission. It happens all the time, with lawmakers routinely giving the executive branch the OK to spend money in different ways than originally planned.
That could be happening now. All those Obama administration officials complaining about across-the-board cuts dictated by sequestration could come up with plans to make the same amount of cuts in ways that would create fewer problems for federal workers and public services.
But it's not happening. And the fault is not with Congress.
In recent weeks, House Republicans have been virtually begging administration officials to ask for permission to move money around. If one program could be more easily cut than others, those Republicans say, just ask us, and we'll let you do it.
“We sent out on Feb. 28 a letter to every Cabinet officer asking them what changes they'd like to have — pluses, subtractions and so on — to give them an opportunity to show us at least one program they would like to have cut, which would then save on sequestration,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in an interview recently. “We did not receive a single answer.”
Issa explained that Congress can allow Cabinet officials to “reprogram” money to ease the burden of sequestration. For example, the sequester requires the Department of Transportation to cut $2 billion from its budget.
“If they were to come up with, for example, $500 million in cuts, their remaining sequestration would drop by 25 percent,” Issa said. “If they were able to come up with $2 billion worth of things they wanted to drop altogether or reduce, then they would have no sequestration.”
In other words, Obama Cabinet officials, if they choose, could have an enormous amount of flexibility in making the required budget cuts. They just don't want to.
At a recent committee hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked officials from the Transportation and Education departments a simple question: Since they've known about sequestration for a long time and also know they have the ability to ask Congress to reprogram money, why haven't they responded to Issa's letter offering help?
The officials had no answers.
Sequestration is still in its early stages. There is still time for the Obama administration to have a change of heart and to enact cuts in the least dramatic, least obtrusive way. Certainly, Issa is ready to go. Congress can move very quickly on something like this, he said, making an open offer to the administration: “If you find programs that you can cut altogether or programs that you can combine, the authority for it would be only hours away.”
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- McKeesport man accused of firing at child to stand trial
- East Allegheny may meet this week with education association
- Steelers defensive end Tuitt shifts into high gear
- Rossi: Pirates foolish to bet on Burnett return
- Oil prices slip on persistent fears of glut
- Rain postpones Pirates-Cubs game
- Erie attorney named trustee for bankrupt Homestead Cemetery
- Ankle replacement makes UPMC McKeesport history
- Charges held against suspect in McKeesport market robbery, assault
- Steelers notebook: No decision on surgery for rookie CB Golson
- McKeesport man charged with sex assault on 13-year-old girl