As the swinging axe of budget sequestration grows closer here in Washington, a lot of finger-pointing is being directed at the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. They do indeed have a lot of say in how this all unfolds, but it is worth remembering that there are two other power centers in Washington that can develop options as well. That’s the way the Founders structured things here on the Potomac: a division of powers.
It is also worth remembering that it was the Barack Obama White House that first injected sequestration into the budget wars back in the summer of 2011, and it was the Obama initiative to put a steel sequestration fence around the defense department, while entitlements stayed outside the fence.
Under Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 of the US Constitution, the president is the commander in chief of the Army and Navy. It has struck some as odd that the president would initiate such an arbitrary budget plan for our military.
While the Obama White House is saying now that they want to delay sequestration again, in the midst of the Super Committee work in late 2011, President Obama was threatening to veto anything that undid the automatic spending cuts for defense and the domestic accounts that would be sequestered.
In the meantime, the Democratic controlled US Senate has not passed a budget since 2009, and the $3.7 trillion federal government has been living on Continuing Resolutions. The effect of this, among other things, is to lock in higher levels of domestic spending, since there would be big cuts if the Republican-controlled House had any say in Conference Committee negotiations with the Senate and the White House.
Last year, the House of Representatives passed a budget that largely protected defense from budget cuts. We don’t know yet what the House budget will have this year, but it is safe to say it will include higher levels of defense spending than the US Senate, should it finally pass a budget.
Who knows how all this will play out. Maybe there will be another last minute, Washington-style deal that no one likes but “had to be done.” But if defense sequestration does happen, President Barack Obama’s idea might remind people of the story about the fire chief that said he regretted saying “let’s fight fire with fire.”