WASHINGTON — A White House report issued Friday warns that $109 billion in across-the-board spending cuts at the start of the new year would be "deeply destructive" to the military and core government responsibilities like patrolling U.S. borders and air traffic control.
The report says the automatic cuts, mandated by the failure of last year's congressional deficit "supercommittee" to strike a budget deal, would require an across-the-board cut of 9 percent to most Pentagon programs and 8 percent in many domestic programs. The process of automatic cuts is called sequestration, and the administration has no flexibility in how to distribute the cuts, other than to exempt military personnel and war-fighting accounts.
"Sequestration would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments and core government functions," the report says.
The cuts, combined with the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts at the end of the year, have been dubbed the "fiscal cliff." Economists warn that the one-two punch could drive the economy back into recession.
The across-the-board cuts were devised as part of last summer's budget and debt deal between President Barack Obama and Capitol Hill Republicans. They were intended to drive the supercommittee — evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans — to strike a compromise. But the panel deadlocked and the warring combatants have spent more time since then blaming each other for the looming cuts than seeking ways to avoid them.
The White House report continues in that vein, blasting House Republicans for an approach to avoiding the sequester that relies on further cuts to domestic programs while protecting upper-bracket taxpayers from higher rates proposed by the president.
In advance of the report's release, White House press secretary Jay Carney went on the offensive, blasting "the adamant refusal of Republicans to accept the fundamental principle that we ought to deal with our fiscal challenges in a balanced way."
Republicans are trying to cast any blame for a possible sequester squarely on Obama, saying it was the White House's idea during last summer's budget negotiations.
In advance of the election, rival Democratic and GOP sides are dug in, unwilling to make the required compromises and unable to trust the other side. It's commonly assumed that there will be more serious efforts to forestall the cuts in a postelection lame duck session, though it may only be for a short time, to give the next Congress and whoever occupies the White House a chance to work out a longer-term solution.
If not, sharp cuts are on the way.
The report warns that the Pentagon faces cuts that "would result in a reduction in readiness of many nondeployed units, delays in investments in new equipment and facilities, cutbacks in equipment repairs, declines in military research and development efforts and reductions in base services for military families."
On the domestic front, the White House warns of dire effects as well.
"The number of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Customs and Border Patrol agents, correctional officers and federal prosecutors would be slashed. The Federal Aviation Administration's ability to oversee and manage the nation's airspace and air traffic control would be reduced," the report says. "The Department of Agriculture's efforts to inspect food processing plants and prevent foodborne illnesses would be curtailed."
Many big programs, like Social Security, Medicaid, federal employee pensions and veterans' benefits and health care would be exempted. Medicare would be limited to an $11 billion, 2 percent cut in provider payments.
Also cut would be $14 million to treat emergency responders and others made ill as a result of the 9/11 attacks; $33 million for federal prosecution of violent crimes against women; and $2.5 billion for medical research and other work by the National Institutes of Health.
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