Lawmakers joust as budget sequester looms

As the federal budget sequester looms with potentially dire consequences for California and the Bay Area, local House members are continuing to sound the alarm.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, today cited the White House’s assessment of the sequester’s impact on California:

“The report today details the harm that these automatic cuts pose to our fragile economy and to the safety and security of families here in California. There is no need for these painful and indiscriminate cuts. That is why I have joined with my colleagues to call on the House Republican leadership to do what is right for our nation by averting these damaging and mindless spending cuts.

“With every passing day, thousands of jobs are at risk, the security of poor, working poor, and middle class families hang in the balance. Our nation’s economy cannot afford any further uncertainty, obstruction, and delay. Too much is at stake.”

From Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez:

“We are witnessing the result of an abject failure in leadership by Republican Speaker Boehner and his Tea Party team in Washington. Let’s not forget, they brought us to this point by fabricating a financial crisis and refusing to raise the debt ceiling in 2011, which resulted in the first U.S. credit downgrade in our history. Now, by refusing to ask the wealthiest individuals and corporations to pay a little more and by blocking any alternative to the sequester, they are bringing down a meat cleaver on American jobs and the economy.

“They’ve wasted months by not coming to the table with balanced plan to reduce the deficit and grow the economy while avoiding these indiscriminate cuts. Congressional Republicans would rather gamble — again — on inaction and blame the President than do what’s right for our economy, our country’s safety and the security of working and middle class families. This is not leadership befitting the party that controls the U.S. House of Representatives. We can and should pass a balanced approach to reduce the deficit and grow the economy this week rather than create another avoidable crisis that will hurt millions of families across the country.”

But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had this to say at a news conference today:

“You know, the president proposed the sequester, yet he’s far more interested in holding campaign rallies than he is in urging his Senate Democrats to actually pass a plan.

“Listen, we know there are smarter ways to cut spending and to continue to grow our economy. That’s why Republicans have acted twice, as Cathy said, to replace the sequester with what we would argue are smarter cuts.

“Listen, the president says we have to have another tax increase in order to avoid the sequester. Well, Mr. President, you got your tax increase. It’s time to cut spending here in Washington.

“Instead of using our military men and women as campaign props, if the president was serious he’d sit down with Harry Reid and begin to address our problems. The House has acted twice, we shouldn’t have to act a third time before the Senate begins to do their work.”

UPDATE @ 5:07 P.M.: Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, weighed in with these remarks on the House floor today:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my strong disappointment that the House Republican Leadership is committing such legislative malpractice by failing to do anything about the automatic spending cuts that will happen this Friday.

“Here we are, on the brink of another economic crisis manufactured by Washington. And, just as before, this crisis will have real consequences, to real people.

“In my district alone, schools will lose $11 million in federal funding. California will be losing $87.6 million in funding for primary and secondary schools. That means fewer students learning and more teachers out of work.

“There’s a rational way to approach balancing the people’s budget, and this is not it. And, we can cut foolish spending without foolishly cutting spending.

“H.R. 699, of which I’m a cosponsor, would replace this method of budgeting with a balanced approach. It would include additional revenue from multimillionaires and smart cuts to reduce unnecessary spending.

“We may not agree on the right way to cut spending, but almost everyone agrees using broad, indiscriminate cuts is the wrong way to cut spending. Let’s come together to pass legislation to avert these cuts.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR Senile Columnist

    It is difficult for me to understand the link between raising taxes on high earners and safeguarding job growth in the private sector. As for the poor folks, let’s be honest. Where would liberals be without them? It is political codependency.

  • Elwood

    ” dire consequences for California and the Bay Area,”

    A 2% reduction in spending will cause “dire consequences”?

    Somebody’s gotten drunk on the dimmiecrat KoolAid.

  • Josh Richman

    From our story today by Mike Rosenberg (linked above): “Lawmakers, administration officials and experts estimate that the cuts could cost the Golden State 225,000 current and future jobs, about $670 million annually in federal grants, plus $3.3 billion in statewide military and defense revenue. The University of California is anticipating 5 percent hits to its $3.3 billion federally funded research program as well as its $1.5 billion in U.S. student aid program, on top of federal cuts enacted last year. School districts around the state would also take sucker punches.”

    Evidence to the contrary, Elwood?

  • Elwood

    Fun with numbers.

    There are three kinds of lies.

    Lies, damn’ lies and statistics.

    All the dimmiecrats and recipients of federal largesse are screaming like mashed cats and nothing’s happened yet and even if nothing is done it would probably be months before the disaster is upon us.

    You heard it here first: Next crisis, debt ceiling 3/27.

    It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine!

  • JohnW

    @4 Elwood

    “Next crisis, debt ceiling 3/27.”

    I think Congress suspended the debt ceiling until August. So, next crisis after the sequester is 3/27, but it’s the Continuing Resolution to authorize government spending (what passes for a budget these days). That could result in a government shutdown like they had in 1995. Then comes the debt ceiling.

    You’re wrong about “it would probably be months before the disaster is upon us.” More like April 1st (No Fools).

  • Elwood

    Not quite the end of the world:

    “Not all ‘sequester’ cuts would hit at the same time”


  • JohnW

    @ 2 Elwood

    Your 2% is misleading.


    Nearly all the sequester cuts come from discretionary defense and non-defense spending, which account for only about 40% of total federal spending. The rest is mandatory spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Interest etc.) So, the 2013 cuts are more like 8.4% of non-defense discretionary and 7.5% of defense (excluding war funding). Also, the $1.2 trillion sequester cuts (over 10 years) are on top of the $1 trillion that was already cut from discretionary programs under the 2011 Budget Control Act.

    You can argue about the degree and timing of impact on the economy, but the Administration is not blowing smoke about the general near-term impact of these cuts on both the economy and the military.

    Economists, debt rating agencies, Simpson-Bowles all say we need at least $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years just to stabilize debt as a share of GDP. The debate is over how much should come from defense, non-defense discretionary, entitlements and revenue. Republicans say “no revenue” other than the $600 billion from letting some of the Bush tax cuts expire. That’s only 15% of the total $4 trillion deficit reduction target. Obama says revenue should be more like a third of the total, which seems totally reasonable to me.

    People like to compare all this to the family budget or a company cutting expenses. There’s a big difference. When a family or company cuts spending when things are tight, they don’t worry about the impact on the broader economy. The government has to worry about cuts backfiring on the economy, as Europe has been learning.

    Feel free to fact check me, but I think my numbers are pretty accurate.

  • Elwood

    Gee, John, you sure do have fun with numbers.

    Being the simple fellow that I am, I divided 85 billion (amount of the sequester) by 3 trillion (approximate US annual budget) and came up with approximately 2.8%.

    Yes, I know that certain parts of that budget can’t be touched. I find the analogy of a home budget appropriate.

    Certain parts of the home budget cannot be touched. Rent, taxes, utilities come to mind. But, just like the federal budget, that leaves a whole universe where cuts can and should be made.

  • JohnW


    Well, the short of it is that we can’t get to the minimum required $4 trillion deficit reduction without both revenue and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid spending.

    Let me do a little simple fellow math of my own. If the status quo spending over the next ten years is roughly $40 trillion, $4 trillion would be a 10% reduction. That’s significant. However, if you say we’re going to take it from non-defense discretionary spending, that’s only about 20 percent of the total spending pie, or about $8 Trillion. So, you would have to cut 50 percent from everything in that bucket (including FBI, Coast Guard, TSA, border patrol, federal courts, Veteran’s Administration, Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, National Parks, Livermore Labs and most other cabinet-managed functions of government. I know some people think that would be just fine. Not I.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    JohnWuss stays up all night worrying about this? The government will print more money. They always do.

  • bbox231

    I love watching these so-called “fiscal conservatives” flailing in the political breezes. It, at least, provides some comic relief to the very serious problems our country faces. You can’t get your candidate into office so, next best tactic is to run around hollering “DANGER DANGER!!!!”.

    So incredulous and unrelenting is the nonensense, I have to wonder if the desire to successfully place a candidate in the oval office is sincere. After all, what kind of out-of-touch whack-o is responsible for proposing these kinds of policies and candidates?

    If we only put half as much energy into vetting candidates and policy as we do into lathering up the collective public psyche – our political process would be much the better for it.

    Sadly, perhaps it IS the wiser who chooses to sit on the sidelines while allowing someone else to navigate such troubled waters. “SHARK!!!” “ICEBURG AHEAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  • JohnW

    Re: #10 Bruce Peterson

    I could **** around with your name too, but I don’t. I use my real first name and real last initial. And I say the same stuff here that I would say to somebody in face-to-face conversation.

    Yup, I’m a night owl, for sure. I read late into the night and catch the first half hour of Morning Joe before catching my normal 5 hours of zzzzz’s. However, as it happens, I Skyped family traveling in Asia last night. They are 16 hours ahead of us. 1:30 am here was 5:30 pm there.

  • RR Senile Columnist

    It is a sad day on this blog when we cannot humorously insult each other.

  • Publius

    To all of those who believe our President and the liberal media (CCTimes included):

    These are not Cuts in spending!!!! I repeat these are not cuts in spending…..

    The Federal Government will spend more this year than the year previous, and they will spend more next than this year.. The “spending cuts” only slow the rate of growth of governement spending.

    Contrary to what the President and his fellow Democrats say, they have not cut one dime of real spending. We still borrow 46 cents of every dollar that the government spends.

    I do not doubt that Ca. will be hurt by these cuts. The pain is self afflicted. We are a pauper state, that, due to poor fiscal management has to rely on the Federal Government to survive.

    I do agree with our President and the Dems on one issue. People have to start paying their fair share. Those 47% that pay nothing need to start pitching in. 50% of what I make goes to the federal government or the state government, I may be selfish, but I believe that is more than enough.

  • Elwood

    Bobby Jindal explains it all to you:


  • JohnW

    @14 Publius

    “These are not cuts in spending.” “The federal government will spend more this year than the previous.”

    Yes and no to that.

    According to OMB website tables I looked up, total spending from the 2012 fiscal year to the current FY 2013 is flat at $3.8 Trillion. However, Medicare and SS increase by a combined $93 billion, and VA increases by another $11 billion. If you exclude these “baked in the cake” expenditures, all other expenditures would be down about $100 billion. Also, spending as a % of GDP is falling. It increased from 21% in 2008 to 25% in 2009 (due to a combination of the smaller GDP and stimulus spending) but is down to 23% in 2013 and will be down to about the 2008 level in 2014. That’s without any further cuts other than the 2011 Budget Control Act cuts — which were about $1 trillion over 10 years. So, the $100 billion down for one year that I mentioned above is consistent with the Budget Control Act target.

    It’s fair to ask how we got spending up to the $3.8 trillion level in the first place. 2008 was 3 Trillion. The increases are a combination of the Bush budget that was already in place for 2009 when Obama’s term started, automatic increases in entitlements (Medicare/SS/Medicaid) and some of Obama’s own spending decisions.

  • Elwood

    It’s Bush’s fault!

    What difference does it make?

  • JohnW


    Who said anything about Bush’s fault? But now that you mention it.

  • Elwood
  • Elwood
  • JohnW

    Let’s see the e-mail. Nothing to stop Woodward from showing it or naming the author of it.

  • JohnW

    So here is the deal on Woodward being threatened.

    According to Buzzfeed and Politico, it apparently started as a conversation with senior WH economic advisor, Gene Sperling, who was trying to convince Woodward that what he has been reporting about the sequester situation is not accurate. Discussion got heated. So Sperling followed up with an e-mail.

    During CNN interview, Wolf Blitzer asked what the e-mail said and who wrote it. Woodward declined to name him and declines to read the e-mail. He just says, “It was said very clearly, you will regret doing this.” That kinda sounds threatening, assuming that’s what was said.

    But Woodward read part of the actual e-mail to Buzzfeed and Politico:

    “I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today [boy, that right there is enough to make Woodward tremble in his boots]. You’re focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. [now, this is getting really serious]. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here…I think you will regret staking that claim.”

    Wow! Sounds like Woodward better get some body guards. That quote clearly gives the impression that he might be mugged and hooded by some black ops types and shipped off to Gitmo for some enhanced briefing techniques.

  • Elwood

    Sounds like a threat to me.

    In a dispute between some White House schmuck and Bob Woodward, I’ll take Woodward.

  • Josh Richman

    POLITICO now has the complete e-mail exchange, and it’s clearly not a threat.

  • Elwood

    Well, that’s just fine.

    But if somebody tells me I will regret something, I’ll take it as a threat.

  • RR senile columnist

    WH email : If’n y’all ain’t got nothin what nice to say, don’t say nothin.
    Woodward: Are you lecturing me, boy?
    WH: You ain’t jest whistlin Dixie.

  • JohnW

    So, Elwood, if your doctor tells you to stop smoking three packs a day or you’ll regret it, you would say that the doctor threatened you? Purely hypothetical example, of course.

  • JohnW

    Woodward did get it wrong in saying that the WH was moving the goal post by insisting on revenue as part of the mix. Under the Budget Control Act (full text available online), the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction was supposed to come up with $1.5 Trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. The sequestration was designed to hold their feet to the fire by imposing automatic across-the-board cuts to Defense and non-Defense discretionary spending if the committee didn’t do it’s job. The Act just says “Deficit Reduction,” and says nothing about whether or how much of the reduction should come through spending cuts, revenue or entitlement reform.

    Woodward also got it wrong when he said that the WH could avoid the problem of across-the-board cuts by setting priorities and moving money around. The Sequestration section of the act explicitly states that, except for military personnel, the cuts have to be across the board for each account in the budget.

    Woodward was right in setting the record straight when Obama incorrectly stated that the sequestration was proposed by Congress. It was proposed by Jack Lew, now Obama’s new Treasury Secretary. However, Woodward overlooked a few things. First, the sequestration method is a GOP idea from Gramm-Rudman. Second, Congress voted for the Budget Control Act 269-161, with 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats voting in favor. Finally, Obama had no choice. The Republicans demanded a mechanism to guarantee spending cuts if the Joint Select Committee couldn’t get the job done, or the Republicans would wreck the economy by refusing to increase the debt ceiling. Now, that was a REAL threat!

  • JohnW

    By the way, it is being reported that Woodward’s source on the “goal post” issue was Eric Cantor. Now there’s a reliable, unbiased source!

  • Elwood
  • Elwood

    @ John W #27

    Purely hypothetical non sequitur.

  • JohnW


    Nothing new there. Nobody disputes that the Sequestration backup plan came from the WH. The WH reversed Obama’s earlier claim to the contrary. Sperling acknowledges that in his e-mail.

    I agree that it is rarely productive for government officials to get into a bladder spilling contest with a reporter, especially Woodward.

  • JohnW

    #31 Elwood on “non sequitur”

    Purely hypothetical, yes; at least I presume and hope so for your sake.

    Non sequitur? I don’t think so. Non sequitur: a conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement.

    You say that you will take it as a threat if somebody says that you will regret something.
    In the hypothetical, a doctor says you will regret heavy smoking.
    Therefore, as in the Woodward situation, it logically follows that would consider the doctor’s warning to be a threat.

  • Josh Richman

    Looks like you’re a voice in the wilderness on this “threat,” Elwood. From Gawker:

    The baldness of Woodward’s lie made it impossible for even the most wetbrained conservative partisans couldn’t [sic] stand by him. Hot Air, the stomping ground of Michele Malkin, allowed that “it’s a threat so veiled I can’t see it.” The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis wrote that Woodward “played” conservative media. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York agreed that it “wasn’t close to a threat.”

  • Elwood

    Suddenly, it’s time to bring down Woodward for having the temerity to question our sacred leader. The wolves are circling.

    According to Gawker, a sort of political National Enquirer, he even got Watergate wrong.


  • Elwood

    Gawker — Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news
    Gawker is the definitive news and gossip sheet for followers of entertainment, media, and business.

    All right!

    A truly fine source for good journalism and astute political analysis.

  • Elwood

    @ John W #33

    Lame, John.

    But that’s OK.

    I know you’re dancing as fast as you can.

  • Josh Richman

    @36 – They seemed pretty well sourced, from Woodward’s own colleagues to a range of conservative pundits. And I have to agree with John; I don’t see how any reasonable reading of that e-mail and Woodward’s own reply supports the “threat” scenario. But hey, people will believe whatever they want, right?

  • JohnW


    “Suddenly, it’s time to bring down Woodward for having the temerity to question our sacred leader.”

    I’ll give you that, Elwood. It is interesting how both ends of the political spectrum love to embrace people normally associated with the opposition when it serves their purposes, as though a concurring opinion from the other side is the ultimate validation. Or diss people from their own side when the “traitors” break ranks (e.g., Chris Christie for showing Obama some love and not getting invited to CPAC).

    However, I have never associated Woodward with either the left or right in his professional work. I seem to recall from the Woodward and Bernstein days that Bernstein was generally thought to be a Democrat and Woodward a Navy officer veteran and Republican. However, I doubt his personal political views have much in common with today’s GOP.

    On today’s Morning Joe, I wasn’t surprised that Joe Scarborough swallowed the “threat-gate” story lock, stock and barrel. Even his liberal co-host, Mika Brzezinski seemed to buy the story. I had the impression that neither one of them had read beyond the headline. Politico’s Mike Allen seemed less committed to the “threat” story, but I’m surprised he didn’t crush it, given that he undoubtedly had seen the full text of the e-mail exchange.

  • JohnW

    I know I’m wallowing in this. Guilty as charged. But I couldn’t help thinking that threat-gate reminds me of the Jimmy Carter “killer rabbit” story.

    Anyway, some great Twitter quotes from conservatives:

    RedState’s Erick Erickson: Ok wow. Finally read the e-mail to Woodward. I must now move to the not a threat camp.

    Fox News’ Brit Hume: On one hand, only Woodward can say if he felt threatened. On the other, hard to imagine feeling threatened by Gene Sperling.

    Washington Examiner’s Byron York: People who made a big deal of this got played.

    Keith Urban (Don Rumsfeld’s former Chief of Staff): Vintage Woodward: Cherry-pick a friendly exchange, make it sinister & vault himself into the media.

  • Elwood

    One thing that everyone seems to be forgetting is that the email exchange recapitulates a telephone conversation.

    Naturally, what was said is edited and filtered through the perception of the participants.

    It might seem quite different if you were on the line.

  • Elwood
  • JohnW

    @42 Elwood

    I’m all for BOTH sides growing up and fixing this crap.

    I have no doubt that both parties deal in funny numbers when they present their “plans.” As for how things are characterized as taxes or spending cuts, that can legitimately get complicated.

    For example, the link mentions $35 billion from increased fees charged to seniors being called a cut. Well, it’s not a tax. It definitely is deficit reduction. And, if I’m not mistaken, it would be considered a reduction in net outlays under long-standing Medicare accounting standards.

    By the way, charging seniors more needs to be and will be a significant part of Medicare reform. Having seniors pay more (lots more) was the key component of the Ryan “premium support” plan. I’m not “wealthy,” but I don’t need and shouldn’t expect taxpayers to pay 75 percent of my Medicare Part B — $315 monthly out of $420 actual cost. I paid a ton in Medicare payroll taxes, but that all goes to pay for Medicare Part A. I didn’t contribute a dime in payroll taxes for Part B. Nobody did. Even a married couple making more than $428,000 annual income pays only 80% of the cost. Why should they get ANY subsidy?

    If the better off 50% of people on Medicare just paid an additional $100 per month toward their coverage, that would generate about $35 billion in annual Medicare savings (reduction in net outlays) or $350 billion over 10 years, or $2.6 Trillion over the 75 year horizon used to calculate unfunded liabilities.

  • Elwood
  • Elwood

    Obama adds six trillion to debt in four years, the largest increase by any President in history:


    Way to go, feckless leader!

  • JohnW

    @45 “Obama adds six trillion”

    From FY 2009 (which includes last four months of Bush) through FY 2012 (ending 9/30/12), cumulative deficits (e.g., additional debt) totaled $5.1 Trillion. Those last four months of FY 2009 alone added about $1 Trillion due to the shrinking economy.

    According to CBO, the economy accounts for $1.6 of the $5.1 Trillion. The Bush tax cuts account for another $1.4 Trillion. TARP (i.e., “bailouts”) and Recovery Act (i.e., “stimulus”) account for slightly less than $1 Trillion.

    Good news, according to CBO, is that the deficit is projected to shrink to $887 Billion in FY 2013 (which commenced 10/1/12) and continues falling, so that cumulative additional debt for FY 2013 through FY 2016 will be $2.8 Trillion. Continued tax cuts, after factoring in expiration of the tax cuts in the top tax bracket, account for $1.3 Trillion of that.

    However, the bad news is that after FY 2016, deficits start going back up due to the the peaking number of retired Boomers.

    My interpretation of all this. The debt burden piled on in both the Bush and Obama administrations is unfortunate but mostly due to the economy and our choice to borrow money to pay for tax cuts. But our long-term problem is Medicare. Fix that, and we don’t have long-term debt problems. Don’t fix it, and we’re in deep doo. The Sequester cuts do nothing about that.

    Also, none of the above numbers account for the Sequester. If that shrinks economic growth by 1.5 points, then we’re back to square one.


  • Elwood

    “”On January 20, 2009, the day Mr. Obama took office, the debt stood at $10.626 trillion. The latest posting reflects an increase of over $6 trillion.” Ibid

    Two, four, six, eight!

    Watch John W obfuscate!

  • JohnW

    Elwood, I do truly believe you should rethink your comment. As a friend, I think you will REGRET staking out that claim!

    Your “day one” number is the same one I found on the Treasury Direct website, which shows the historical debt for any date. It’s also, as you might say, a non sequitur to my comment @46. But, just for the record, the debt on February 20, one month after Obama took office, was $10,839 trillion, or $213 billion higher. That’s an annualized debt growth pace of $2.5 trillion. Are you going to attribute that explosive growth in the first month to Obama?

    I used an FY to FY comparison not to obfuscate, but because that was the only way to show the components of debt increase based on CBO numbers per the link. My purpose wasn’t to minimize Obama’s contribution to the debt or to exaggerate Bush’s.

    My point is twofold. First, I don’t know what anybody could have done differently during Obama’s first term to lessen the debt situation. In fact, I would argue, though you will disagree, that the stimulus and auto bailout significantly helped to stop the bleeding. Yes, he could have done European-style austerity. How’s that working out across the pond? Triple-dip recession.

    Secondly, and the more important point I tried to make, is that the stuff that’s in the $2.2 trillion in 10-year discretionary spending cuts — $1 trillion in 2011 during the debt ceiling debacle and $1.2 trillion in the Sequestration — will do little to address our real long-term debt outlook. It certainly won’t help our military strength. Those Defense cuts are unsustainable, given what is going on in the world. Only fixing Medicare, economic growth and revenue will deal with the long-term. Short-term, I think the Sequestration will do more harm than good, in that what we accomplish with spending cuts will be undone by slower economic growth, or worse.

  • JohnW

    I should have said $10.839 Trillion, not $10, 839 Trillion.

  • Elwood

    Debra Saunders explains it all to you:

    Another pathetic Obama lie.