President Obama and congressional Republicans are blaming one another for the $85 billion in sequester-mandated spending cuts set to take effect March 1, but U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., says the cuts should be implemented, and the huge fight over them will reveal whether lawmakers and the president are serious about real deficit reduction.
This countdown to cuts in defense and domestic programs is the result of the supercommittee failing in the wake of the 2011 Budget Control Act that was passed to avert a debt-ceiling crisis.
The sequester idea came from the Obama administration and was approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Neither side is eager to embrace it now, but Mulvaney told WND the sequester must go forward.
"That is the promise that we made to folks back in August (of 2011). If we raise the debt ceiling a dollar, we'll cut spending a dollar and if we can't figure out how to do it, then the sequester will force us to do it," said Mulvaney, who voted against the Budget Control Act. "I happen to think that agreement is worth keeping. We have to have, at least, some consistency. I didn't agree with the bill at the time for various different reasons, but we have to stick with the principles, and I don't understand why the president now wants to break the agreement. It's imperative that we prove to people that we can reduce spending. Right now, the only way to do that is through the sequester."
Mulvaney also urges Americans to get past the political hand-wringing and observe that the sequester will make "hardly any" dent in the annual budget deficit.
"The debt this year will be $1300 billion and this would cut it by $85, so you're cutting $85 out of $1300. Think about that for a second," Mulvaney said. "That's why I think a lot of this doom and gloom and 'sky is falling' hyperbole we're hearing from the Democrats is just designed to make people afraid. I think this is a good time to ride it out and show folks that the world doesn't end when you cut two percent from certain items in the federal government.
"I don't want to minimize the impact on defense. That's 11 percent, which is different, but the sun is going to rise on March 1. The federal government will still be there, and we'll save $85 billion. All things being considered, it's something we need to do," Mulvaney said.
As Mulvaney indicated, he is uneasy about the size of spending cuts impacting national defense. He said a "hollowing out" of the military could result from the much greater cuts that are about to impact national security.
"As interested as I have been in looking critically at the Defense Department for savings, an 11 percent across-the-board cut is not the right way to manage the Defense Department. I am concerned about it. I'm concerned about our ability to pursue our interests overseas, especially militarily, and that is a real concern," Mulvaney said. "That being said, the House has already offered its alternative to prevent that and the Senate has refused to take it up. The president has refused to engage on the topic. I don't know what else we can do in the House. We can't govern by ourselves. So it is a difficulty, and we need to face it, but getting rid of the sequester is not the answer."
The U.S. is currently facing annual deficits of more than a trillion dollars and a national debt racing toward $17 trillion. Mulvaney said this debate over a relatively tiny amount of spending will demonstrate whether the nation is ready for a larger debate to tackle the big drivers of our debt.
"This is a gut check. This is a test as to whether or not not we can make even small steps toward balancing the budget," Mulvaney said. "I have members of my own party that are concerned about job losses and impacts and so forth. I understand where they're coming from, but this is a two percent reduction in some circumstances. If we cannot do that, do we really have a chance ever to balance the budget? That's exactly what this comes down to. This is a test case. If we do not have the political will to do this, then we might as well give up and go home because I would think that's it's unlikely that we'll ever get real reductions in our spending."
President Obama took to the airwaves on Tuesday to place blame for the sequester at the feet of Republicans. But Mulvaney said the sequester was absolutely Obama's idea, and while the congressman may not have liked the debt ceiling deal from two years ago, he's proud of how the GOP members have handled this fight.
"I don't care whose idea it was. I care who's giving us good ideas on how to fix it. Right now, the House has done that. The Republicans have done that. They have given an alternative," Mulvaney said. "The Senate Democrats have thrown a couple ideas out there but don't have the nerve to take a vote. The president hasn't even thrown any specific ideas out there. He's still talking about a fair and balanced approach and making rich people pay more. That's not a plan. That's a platform. It's a plank in a campaign effort.
"So the Republicans in the effort have a PR effort. Do we have a solid message? Yes, we're being adults. We are serious about the spending problem. We are going to keep the promises made during the debt-ceiling discussion," he said. "I'm proud that the House Republicans have done this time around. At the end of the day, you have to believe that good policy makes good politics, and right now we're on the right side of this policy."
The intense fiscal debates will not ease anytime soon. Mulvaney notes that the next debt-ceiling deadline is May 19, and fights over the House Republican budget and a possible government shutdown will arise before then.