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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Obama Signs Law Requiring Him to Detail Budget Cuts


President Obama agreed on Tuesday to tell Congress within a month just how he would make nearly $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect starting at the beginning of 2013.

Mr. Obama signed legislation requiring a detailed contingency report in 30 days for complying with last year's budget control mandates, commonly called sequestration in Washington. Under last year's law, the government must slice $984 billion in spending by 2021 starting on Jan. 2 unless the president and Congress agree on an alternative plan.

The bill signed on Tuesday was promoted by Republicans as a way to build support for heading off deep reductions in military spending by showing just what would be cut. Under last year's Budget Control Act, half of the automatic cuts, or $492 billion, would come from military and other national security spending on top of previous cuts, a looming ax that has stirred increasing agitation amo ng hawks in Washington just as the election campaign heats up.

“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,” said Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, chairman of the House Republican Conference and co-author of the bill signed on Tuesday.

Mr. Hensarling said House Republicans were committed to finding the full $1 trillion in savings over 10 years but wanted to redistribute them to prevent “a national defense crisis.”

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said the legislation was necessary because the Obama administration had resisted disclosing its plans for dealing with the automatic cuts.

“The unbalanced defense cuts threaten our nation's ability to defend itself, and the presiden t and Congress must find a smarter, more deliberate way to attain the nearly $500 billion in required defense savings,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

Mr. Obama made no comment on Tuesday about the bill, which he signed in private and announced in a one-sentence statement.

The White House had resisted the legislation, aware that a detailed report could provide fodder for Mr. Obama's Republican critics and potentially so alarm members of both parties that they would try to cancel the automatic cuts without finding a replacement plan to reduce the deficit. The automatic cuts were set up last year to be so draconian that they would serve as an incentive for the two sides to come together to produce a bipartisan fiscal plan. So far, that has not happened.

Mr. Obama has said that one way the Republicans can avoid such deep defense cuts would be to let Bush-era tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans. “Those big across-the-board cuts, including defense, that Congress said would occur next year if they couldn't reach a deal to reduce the deficit?” he said in a recent speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Let's understand, first of all, there's no reason that should happen, because people in Congress ought to be able to come together and agree on a plan, a balanced approach that reduces the deficit and keeps our military strong. It should be done.”