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Republican-backed sequestration bill passes House, but unlikely to go further

Sep. 13, 2012 - 10:55PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation aimed at avoiding deep defense cuts — but it appears the bill has reached a dead end.

The chamber, in a 223-196 vote split mostly on party lines, passed the National Security and Job Protection Act. The measure was introduced by Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., who stringently opposes new defense cuts.

West’s bill would require the president to craft a plan that would replace defense cuts that would kick in Jan. 2 unless lawmakers pass a $1.2 trillion debt-reduction package. It would do so, in part, by cutting $19 billion from discretionary spending accounts.

But passage in the House is likely the final destination for the West-sponsored bill.

Democrats who control the Senate have no plans to take up the bill, ignoring it just as they have ignored similar defense-only exemptions to sequestration previously passed by the House.

The House bill “fails the test of fairness and shared responsibility,’’ the Obama administration said Wednesday in a policy statement that threatened a veto if the measure somehow passed Congress.

“As the administration has long said, sequestration would be highly destructive to both defense and non-defense priorities. It was intended only to serve the function of forcing compromise on a balanced package of deficit reduction,” the statement says.

As defense officials have warned, the automatic cuts would be made through a process called sequester, which would simply take a certain percentage from all nonexempt federal accounts. Shy of strategy, the cuts could cause job losses and hinder national security, the officials have warned.

Specifically, the White House objects to “destructive cuts in investments critical to the nation’s economic future, ranging from education to research and develop infrastructure.” Spending on infrastructure enhancement programs has been a theme of President Obama’s re-election campaign.

The veto threat statement also panned the bill for cuts it would allow to mandatory domestic programs such as Medicare, which are favored by Democrats like Obama and viewed skeptically by conservatives like West.

During debate on the bill, House members traded barbs about the proper way to avoid not only the $500 billion in cuts to planned defense spending, but an equal amount of cuts that would be made to domestic programs under the same process.

Several Republicans took to the House floor to harshly criticize Democrats for attempting to introduce an alternative bill they claimed, citing a Congressional Budget Office analysis, would raise taxes by about $80 billion.

And Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., urged House members to reconsider cutting the Pentagon’s budget when U.S. diplomats in Egypt and Libya had just been attacked. He also warned sequestration would create the smallest American military since before World War II.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House minority leader, called West’s bill “a mirage.”

“This is really silly. It’s not serious,” Pelosi said on the House floor.

“[The bill] just makes matters worse as the [sequestration] clock keeps ticking.”

Staff writer Rick Maze contributed to this report.

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