WASHINGTON: The stalemate over sequestration just got deeper today with horribly predictable political posturing over the tardy release of the Office of Management and Budget’s congressionally-mandated report on how the drastic automatic cuts would be implemented.
The 394-page report set the stage for the mutual denunciations in its preamble, declaring House Republican proposals to avert the sequester as “particularly irresponsible.” House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon declared “the Administration failed to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law” mandating the report. HASC’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith, tried to get inside the news cycle by preempting McKeon’s statement with his own that blamed the whole disaster on “a group of Congressional Republicans [who] held the U.S. economy hostage during last year’s debt ceiling debate.” The non-partisan Aerospace Industries Association, which has sounded the alarm as loud as anyone, carefully avoided political finger-pointing but reiterated its warning that sequestration would stagger the economy, saying that the report is “the final nail in the coffin for pollyannas still pretending that sequestration wouldn’t be that bad.”
Total progress: zero.
In a hastily convened conference call late this afternoon, House Armed Services Committee staffers laid out the report’s failings. Despite being almost 400 pages long, it lacked the detail they said they expected, only calculating the impact of cuts to the “account” level, whereas sequestration would be implemented at — and the law directing the report required data on — the far finer-grained “program, project, and activity” level. For example, the total spent on “Aircraft Procurement, Air Force” is “account” data, while how many we buy of any specific aircraft, say the F-35, is “program” data; the report provides the former but not the latter, which would be required to actually implement sequestration if the law does take effect.
“It took them over 30 days to pull this information together at the account level,” said one staffer. “How long is it going to take OMB to pull together not only the numbers for ‘program, project and activity’ but then to provide guidance to implement that?”
“It is pretty hard for the members of Congress to make informed decisions if they don’t truly understand the consequences of sequestration,” said another staffer. “There’s no specificity to it… . As long as there’s no concept at a detailed level of what the consequences are, it’s pretty hard to create the energy required to go solve the problem.”
In other words, the report doesn’t provide the detail to make the abstraction of sequestration feel real to most members of Congress — let alone America’s baffled citizenry — and thus doesn’t stoke enough panic to force action. But it was always likely that stalemate would continue until after the election. What’s unpredictable is whether the lame-duck Congress will find a compromise even then.