The Senate yesterday passed “The Sequestration Transparency Act” that requires the president to explain to Congress what he plans to cut to implement the sequester — the across the board spending reductions that were triggered when the anything-but-super committee failed last November to come up with a deficit reduction plan.
Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities talks about what he sees ahead as we approach the so-called fiscal cliff and how we can make the case for a more sane deficit reduction policy.
The act requires the president to submit the spending cut details to Congress within 30 days of the law being enacted. Assuming the president gets the actual legislation in about a week and signs it by around August 15, that would mean that the spending cut plan would be released by the middle of September. That would provide enough time for the proposed reductions (and the programs that would not be cut) to be an election issue; it would not provide enough time for legislation to be enacted before the election to prevent the proposed cuts from occurring.
The sequester will start to be implemented on January 2, 2012, unless Congress and the White House enact legislation to stop or alter it.
Much of the rhetoric surrounding the passage of the bill in the Senate yesterday and in the House last week had to do with a failure of the White House to live up to its responsibilities under the Budget Control Act that established the hardly super committee and the sequester.
But the BCA doesn’t require the president explain in advance how he’s planning to implement the sequester. In fact, other than the date when the spending is supposed to start to be reduced, the law provides no sequester-related deadlines and absolutely does not require the White House to pre-specify what will be cut.
The White House wasn’t required to specify its preferred cuts; it was just doing what Congress allowed it to do when it drafted, debated and adopted the BCA.
In other words, and in spite of the rhetoric, this was a congressional rather than a White House failure.
And it’s a huge warning sign about what could happen during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress when the same basic political environment — the need to legislate quickly under extraordinary pressure — not only will exist again but will be much worse. I actually shudder to think about what mistakes of omission and commission could be in all the fiscal cliff-related legislation on taxes, the debt ceiling, and government funding that will have to be decided by December 31 but won’t start to be considered until after Election Day.