When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the furlough of the 800,000 Department of Defense civilian employees, he also mentioned that there is a possibility that furloughs would happen again next year, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 amended the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 to include enforcement of budgetary goals. It specified that “Unless a joint committee bill achieving an amount greater than $1,200,000,000,000 in deficit reduction as provided in section 401(b)(3)(B)(i)(II) of the Budget Control Act of 2011 is enacted by January 15, 2012, the discretionary spending limits listed in section 251(c) shall be revised, and discretionary appropriations and direct spending shall be reduced,” Both parties like to blame the other, but the truth is that both voted for the act and it was signed by President Obama. As everyone knows, that joint committee failed to agree on deficit reductions and as a result, the Discretionary Spending Limits and the definition of Security Category term changed.
Initially, the term Security Category included the “agency budgets for the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Nuclear Security Administration.” The failure of the joint committee resulted in that a change for the term Security Category to mean “discretionary appropriation in budget function 050” or National Defense. This include the Department of Defense, Atomic energy defense and defense related activities. Another resulting change is in the discretionary spending limits from $1,066 Billion (no separate security/nonsecurity) to $556 Billion for security category and $510 Billion for nonsecurity. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 further reduced these spending limits to $552 Billion for security category and $506 Billion for nonsecurity.
It is clear that since January 2012, the Obama Administration knew that they had no more than $556 Billion for appropriations in Budget Function 050 (National Defense). It would be understandable that since that was reduced to $552 Billion on January 2, 2013, that the Administration needed some more time to reduce their appropriation requests to get under the new limits. Now that we have the President’s FY2014, how well did he meet the limits that he signed into law? He has requested over$640 Billion for Budget Function 050 or almost $75 Billion or 16% over the amount authorized. What part of the law does this administration not understand?
The Obama Administration has blamed the Budget Control Act for preventing them the flexibility to identify cuts due to the across the board cuts that sequestration requires. However, given sixteen months to identify specific areas to cut and present a budget that complies with the law that Democrats and Republicans approved, the Administration presented a budget to Congress that fails to even come close. This transfers the responsibility of identifying those areas of cuts to Congress. This is not likely to happen, which will result in Sequestration to come back into play for the FY2014 budget. We will once again hear the White House trying to blame Congress for not fixing their budget. We will once again hear Congressional Democrats and Republican blame each other for their failure to identify specific “targeted” cuts required to prevent sequestration. We will once again see civilian employees of the U.S. Government furloughed because of the leaders of this country cannot control their spending.
The top Democrat and Republican of the Senate Armed Services Committee has requested that Secretary Hagel submit a revised 2014 budget that meets the required reductions mandated by the Budget Control Act. Reports are that he will submit that budget by July 1 and that he has directed Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to conduct a “strategic choices and management review” to identify areas in the budget that could be targeted for cuts. What this amounts to is Congress, in a bipartisan way, has requested the Executive Branch to do what the law directs them to do. Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing and expecting different results. The current budgeting process meets that definition. We need the President, as the head of the Executive Branch of the Government, to stop playing political games with the budget and begin taking seriously complying with the laws regarding the funding of critical functions in the defense of the country. Only that way can we prevent sequestration from being the new normal instead of a one-time occurrence.