White House, Republicans trade blame over looming spending cuts
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House presented a detailed breakdown Friday of $109 billion in across-the-board spending cuts scheduled for January, setting off a fresh blame game between the Obama administration and Republicans over responsibility for what both say is a preventable budgetary calamity.
The itemization of the so-called "sequestration" plan showed potential pain all around: $11 billion out of the Medicare healthcare program for the elderly, a $15.3 billion cut in defense procurement accounts and hefty cuts to a Department of Agriculture program that supports farm prices.
There was also a cut of $129 million from embassy security, which would be particularly ill-timed in light of deadly attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan by Islamic militants in recent days.
The list, in 394 pages, included millions slashed from familiar programs such the National Institutes for Health, the national parks, the Smithsonian and all the regulatory agencies. It could generate new public concerns as the presidential and congressional races enter the home stretch.
For example, the American Cancer Society issued a statement saying the automatic cuts would result in 50,000 fewer low-income and underinsured women being screened for cancer next year.
State and local government officials will read the fine print carefully. For example, payments to issuers of Build America Bonds, a financing tool created as part of the 2009 economic stimulus, will be cut by $255 million, according to the document. The taxable municipal bonds are designed to help finance capital projects.
The reductions, aimed at lowering U.S. budget deficits, would result in a 9.4 percent cut in defense programs and an 8.2 percent reduction in an array of domestic government activities, the White House budget office said.
The sequestration is the result of the failure of Congress and the administration to agree to a long-term deficit reduction package.
DEFENSE INDUSTRY FIGHTING BACK
The broad percentages were no surprise. But until attached to specific programs, the results were difficult for all but skilled lobbyists and corporations to digest. The defense industry mobilized months ago to fight the sequestration, issuing its own studies about the impact.