House passes bill requiring White House to hand over sequestration details

Wednesday - 7/18/2012, 5:06pm EDT

The House handily approved a bipartisan bill requiring the Obama administration to provide more information about how automatic across-the-board cuts will be implemented starting in January.

The Sequestration Transparency Act, which passed the House in a 414-2 vote Wednesday, requires the President to detail how he will cut $1.2 trillion — $487 billion for the Defense Department and nearly the same amount for civilian agencies — from the budget over the next 10 years.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the cuts, known as sequestration, would amount to a 10 percent reduction in defense spending and a 9 percent slash to general government spending. However, as of April, the Office of Management and Budget, said it had not yet begun planning for how the cuts would impact individual agency budgets under the expectation that Congress would come up with an alternative plan.

Ryan: 'A matter of transparency'

Earlier this year, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), chair of the House Budget Committee, wrote to OMB requesting a list of programs exempt from the cuts. OMB said it does not maintain such a list and could not provide one, which Ryan decried as a lack of leadership from the administration.

"If you're not willing to replace the sequester, tell us how it's going to be implemented," Ryan said during the floor debate Wednesday. "That is simply a matter of transparency. We're not judging the debate or the merits of each others' ideas on how to replace it. We're simply saying to OMB, 'Tell us how it's going to go down, because this seems to be your only plan.'"

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member of the budget committee, supported passage of the bill but said the larger issue remains how Congress will avert the cuts.

"I believe that more information is better than less," he said. "I also believe ... we have enough information today that an across-the-board, meat-ax approach to reducing the deficit. The sequester is a reckless way to deal with our budget."

He continued his call for a "balanced approach" to replacing the sequester. The House passed an alternative deficit-reduction plan, called the Sequestration Replacement Act. The bill contained cost-savings identified by various congressional committees, including one that would increase federal employees' pension contributions by 5 percent over five years.

Predictions of doom

The vote came as defense industry leaders issued dire predictions for the nation's economy if the cuts are allowed to kick in.

The Aerospace Industries Association, in a report released Tuesday, said as many as 2 million jobs could be lost if sequestration was enacted.

Earlier Wednesday, titans of the defense industry told the House Armed Services Committee the automatic cuts would be devastating.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced a similar sequestration-transparency bill. A bipartisan group of senators also attached language to several unrelated bills in a bid to wrest more information from the administration about how the automatic cuts would be applied.

The administration has maintained that sequestration would be would highly destructive and that Congress should work to avoid it.

Van Hollen: Solving the problem more important

During the floor debate Wednesday, House Republicans chided OMB for failing to provide additional information to Congress.

"The bottom line is this: It's a responsibility of this administration to inform Congress and the American public of its plans to implement the sequester and to provide clarification on its scope and severity," said Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who called the transparency bill "blessedly bipartisan."

Van Hollen said OMB was "already crunching the numbers." Acting OMB Director Jeff Zients, who is slated to appear before the House Armed Services Committee in August, may provide more details about how the administration will apply the cuts.

"Our time here would be best spent putting in place to replace the sequester rather than simply asking for more information," Van Hollen said before the vote. "More information is good; solving the problem is better."

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