(Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Republicans and experts are claiming that the Obama administration is taking unnecessary steps to reduce U.S. Middle East security, disrupt air travel and release criminally detained immigrants to exacerbate the effect of the March 1 budget sequester.
In an interview in MSNBC's Morning Joe on Wednesday, Washington Post investigative journalist Bob Woodward said President Obama's decision to recall an aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf due to the impending cuts is "a kind of madness."
"Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there and saying 'Oh, by the way, I can't do this because of some budget document?' Or George W. Bush saying, 'You know, I'm not going to invade Iraq because I can't get the aircraft carriers I need' or even Bill Clinton saying, 'You know, I'm not going to attack Saddam Hussein's intelligence headquarters,' as he did when Clinton was president because of some budget document?" said Woodward. "Under the Constitution, the President is Commander-In-Chief and employs the force. And so we now have the President going out because of this piece of paper and this agreement, I can't do what I need to do to protect the country. That's a kind of madness that I haven't seen in a long time."
Last Friday Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned that sequestration would be an air travel "calamity" that would force the FAA to cut air traffic controller services, causing flight delays and cancellations. This week LaHood, under fire for exaggerating the impact of sequesters, told Morning Joe that the administration is "not using scare tactics. What we're doing is sending up warning flares to people that these cuts have consequences, and here's what the consequences are."
A New York Times report on Wednesday morning also highlighted that federal immigration officials also released hundreds of detainees from detention centers around the country in response to the pending budget cuts. The Times called it "a highly unusual effort to save money" which did not sit well with some Republicans.
"It's abhorrent that President Obama is releasing criminals into our communities to promote his political agenda on sequestration," Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, who is running the House hearings on immigration reform, told The Times. "By releasing criminal immigrants onto the streets, the administration is needlessly endangering American lives," he added.
Despite the concerns raised by Rep. Goodlatte however, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) ensured the Times that the detainees released were not a threat to American society but also maintained that the move was necessary. "As fiscal uncertainty remains over the continuing resolution and possible sequestration, ICE has reviewed its detained population to ensure detention levels stay within ICE's current budget," Gillian M. Christensen and ICE spokeswoman told the Times.
Conservatives are arguing the American people will see right through the Obama administration tactics. "There are good reasons to fear the impact of these across-the-board spending cuts, especially to defense... But the manner in which the administration is attempting to claim that the country's business will grind to a halt is prompting some skepticism about the sequester as well as the government's credibility," wrote Jonathan S. Tobin, senior online editor of neo-conservative monthly magazine Commentary, in an op-ed.
A 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction or "super committee" was established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) and charged with cutting the deficit by an additional $1.2 - $1.5 trillion over ten years. The failure of the committee to reach an agreement on the cuts on Nov. 21, 2011 triggered the sequestration provision in the BCA. Sequestration will make automatic cuts totaling $1.2 trillion from 2013 to 2021. The sequestration provision should have kicked in on Jan. 2, 2013, but was delayed until March 1, 2013, by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. If Congress doesn't act to prevent the sequestration, the cuts will begin as of Friday. The 2013 cuts will total $85 billion, and will come from discretionary spending divided between defense ($500 billion) and non-defense ($700 billion) over the next eight years, according to Idea Money Watch.