House passes bill demanding sequester details from the Obama administration

The House approved legislation on Wednesday that would give the Obama administration 30 days to provide details on how it will deal with a required $109 billion cut to 2013 spending, which the administration must impose under last year's debt-ceiling agreement.

The bill enjoyed broad support from both parties and passed easily in a 414-2 vote. The two "no" votes came from Democratic Reps. Eliot Engel (N.Y.) and Maurice Hinchey (N.Y.).

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Under the sequester, the Office of Management and Budget must by Jan. 2 cut $109 billion from 2013 mandatory and discretionary spending accounts unless Congress provides a different plan.

The language is similar to language that the Senate approved in June as an amendment to the farm bill. That language calls on the Defense Department to report on the impact of defense sequestration by August 15.

The Senate language also calls on OMB to report in 30 days on the impact of sequestration, and President Obama to release a report on the impact of all sequestration across defense and non-defense spending.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who has a companion bill in the Senate, said he would keep pushing for a vote on his bill in the Senate.

"I applaud the House of Representatives for taking action to ensure that taxpayers and Congress know the president's plan to implement sequestration across government programs," he said. "I am committed to ensuring that this bill receives consideration in the Senate as soon as possible."

Republicans have complained that the Obama administration has yet to indicate how it would make these cuts, which were required after the so-called "supercommittee" failed to reach an agreement on deficit reduction.

"This bill is essentially about transparency," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said during debate. "It's not re-litigating the budget fight, it's about making sure that we have as much information as we can to make the right decisions."


But the bill also would put pressure on the Obama administration and Democrats to redesign the sequester to spare the Defense Department from cuts. The author of the bill, House GOP Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), has indicated that he sees the bill this way, lamenting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he would implement current law.

"Sen. Reid has said, 'I'm not going to back off sequestration,'" Hensarling said. "Thus, we are looking at a 10 percent real cut in our national defense."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) went further, calling on Democrats to work with Republicans to avoid deep defense cuts. The House already has approved a bill doing just that, but the Senate has not moved any bill to rework the sequester.

"I ask that we come together on this issue," McKeon said on the House floor. "I ask the president to put forth some leadership. As commander in chief, he has the obligation to help us solve this problem."

Democrats said the only reason there is no agreement to adjust the sequester is because Republicans have refused to raise taxes, along with the spending reductions the GOP wants, as a way of helping to balance the budget.

Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said that Democrats agree with the need to replace the sequester. However, he said defense cuts were made part of the sequester precisely because Republicans thought that was a better option than raising taxes.

"Let's make no mistake," Van Hollen said. "The reason we're here is that our Republican colleagues deliberately chose as part of the sequester to put defense spending on the chopping block along with other spending. That was the choice above an offer to deal with revenue as part of the sequester."

But while Democrats called for a deal that includes cuts and revenue, Ryan rejected this approach.

"Government first, taxpayers second," Ryan said. "That's what the so-called 'balanced approach means.' It means keep feeding higher spending with higher taxes.

"The problem is ... the arithmetic just doesn't add up. You literally cannot tax your way out of this mess. Spending is the cause, we need to address our spending."

Ryan said that as of today, the transparency bill is needed because there is no resolution of this fight over how the sequester might be replaced.

"Since there's an absence of leadership on these critical fiscal issues from the president of the United States, from the Senate of the United States, at the very least, show us how this is going to work," Ryan said.

McKeon added that details about the pending cuts could give the defense industry a needed heads-up, because many of those companies are suffering from the uncertainty about defense spending levels.

"We are going to put thousands of people in jeopardy of [losing] their jobs," McKeon said. "This is already in motion."

House passage sends the bill to the Senate. The Obama administration had not released a statement on its opinion of the bill as of early Wednesday afternoon.

— This story was updated at 4:32 p.m. and again at 10:36 p.m.