Obama signs bill requiring White House to detail fiscal cliff

President Obama on Tuesday signed a law requiring the White House budget office to reveal exactly how automatic budget cuts looming in January 2013 will be carried out.

The Sequestration Transparency Act was passed by the House in July by a 414-2 vote. The Senate approved it unanimously later in the month.

Under last August’s debt-ceiling deal, $109 billion in automatic spending cuts are to hit in January to punish politicians for failing to come up with a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan last year as part of the supercommittee process.

The administration must issue its report to Congress in 30 days. The report will come close to the election and could focus the debate on the ballooning deficit and looming cuts to defense — two themes that Mitt Romney has been emphasizing in his campaign against Obama.

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In total, sequestration will require $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years to reduce the deficit. Roughly half of those cuts would be made to defense spending.

Last week, Republicans began to pound Obama for not signing the transparency law, which was sponsored by House GOP conference head Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), who had served on the supercommittee.

Hensarling urged the president to work quickly to avoid the cuts to defense.

"The American people deserve to know how their commander in chief intends to implement half a trillion dollars in cuts to our national security, which his own secretary of Defense compared to ‘shooting ourselves in the head,' " he said.

Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) had introduced a version of the bill in the Senate.

“Although OMB [the White House Office of Management and Budget] resisted our attempts to get this information, I’m glad the administration has realized its obligation to lay out for Congress and the American people just how the sequester would be implemented,” said Sessions, the Budget Committee ranking member. 

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the report will be needed to understand the effects on national defense and other “key domestic priorities.”

“Allowing the sequester to occur would be a failure of leadership and a failure to govern. We must work together to replace these arbitrary cuts,” he said.

Ryan noted that the House in May passed a bill to more than replace the 2013 cuts with reductions to mandatory spending.

“I urge the Senate and President Obama to follow our lead in providing an alternative to replace the harmful effects of sequestration,” Ryan said.

Obama has rejected the House solution, which slashed spending on entitlements such as food stamps, and called for a “balanced” package that includes tax increases through the ending of tax breaks, including those provided for oil companies.

Former supercommittee co-chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) had also pushed for a version of the bill, arguing that the looming cuts to social programs have not gotten the attention they deserve.

"This new law will make sure that every member of Congress and the public understands the impact of sequestration, as well as the need to replace both the defense and non-defense cuts in a balanced and bipartisan way," she said Tuesday.

The spending sequester is part of a series of fiscal changes set for early next year that has come to be called the "fiscal cliff," since the combination of tax increases and spending cuts, if allowed to occur, would tip the economy into recession, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Updated at 4:26 p.m.