Saturday, November 05, 2011

Negotiating with ourselves

From the annals of "Who could have ever predicted?"

WASHINGTON — As pessimism mounted this week over the ability of a bipartisan Congressional committee to agree on a deficit-reduction plan, lawmakers began taking steps to head off the large cuts in Pentagon spending that would automatically result from the panel’s failure.

Members of both parties and both chambers said they increasingly feared that the 12-member committee would be unable to bridge deep partisan divisions and find $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction as required under the law that raised the debt ceiling and created the committee in the summer.

As talks sputtered, one panel member publicly lamented that the process was not working, and the group was chastised by a bipartisan group of budget experts at a public hearing for failing to show progress. Several members of Congress, especially Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, are readying legislation that would undo the automatic across-the-board cuts totaling nearly $500 billion for military programs, or exchange them for cuts in other areas of the federal budget.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has drafted a bill that would replace the military reductions that would occur under a process known in Congress as sequestration with 5 percent cuts to other, unspecified parts of the federal budget, and a 10 percent decrease in pay for members of Congress. In the House, similar measures are being assembled.

“If the joint select committee does not do what it needs to do,” said Representative K. Michael Conaway, a Texas Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, “most of us will move heaven and earth to find an alternative that prevents a sequester from happening.”

After listening to dire predictions by the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the effects of automatic cuts, Representative John Garamendi, Democrat of California, was even more blunt. “The sequester will never take place,” he said. “It’s not going to happen.”

The richest Americans and the Pentagon brass need not worry. Nothing can be asked of them. In fact, should a Republican win the election, they will be showered with even more largesse.

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