What Is 'Sequestration' and Whose Idea Was It?

In Monday night's third and final presidential debate on foreign policy, President Obama said the deep cuts to the military budgets that are scheduled to take effect on Jan. 2 were not his idea and will not happen. The comment has brought the spotlight back to last year's budget battle and now they are set to take place.

"First of all, the sequester is not something that I've proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed," Obama said during an exchange with Mitt Romney. And he added his strongest pronouncement to date on its future: "It will not happen."

To most Americans the term "sequester," used politically, may not bring back memories of 2011's late summer budget battles between Congress and the White House. The end result was a Super Committee composed of members from both sides of the aisle, from both chambers, whose job was to make the tough decisions.

In the end, all the committee voted to do was vote on a package of $1.2 trillion dollars in cuts that would go into effect in 2013 if Congress didn't agree on deficit-reduction package by Nov. 23 of this year. And it isn't looking all that optimistic that will happen in the days following the election.

Famed Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward disputed Obama's statement that the idea was birthed by Republicans in Congress.

"What the president said is not correct," Woodward told Politico on Tuesday. "And it's refuted by the people who work for him."

In his book The Price of Politics, the reporter who gained fame from the Watergate scandal outlined that it was White House Office of Management Director Jack Lew and Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors who took the sequestration proposal to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They also presented it to House Republicans.

Initially, no one thought a deal could not be reached to avert hitting the debt ceiling, but when reality started to unfold, the sequestration was the only option left standing. Woodward also writes that the president may not have known the entire story of how the process unfolded.

"It's a complicated process – and in fairness to the president – maybe he didn't know that they were doing this because it's kind of technical budget jargon," Woodward said in his Politico interview. "What I wrote – it's specific date, time, place, participants. What I've reported is totally accurate. Call Nabors and Lew. Or ask the White House. I mean, they know that's accurate."

Now political analyst are saying that the White House never thought the budget talks would break down over Democrats insisting on new taxes and Republicans demanding some solid spending cuts. White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed as much the day after Monday's final debate.

"What the president said last night was a reiteration of what his position has long been," Carney told reporters on Air Force One. "The sequester that was designed and passed by Congress was never meant to become policy, it was never meant to be implemented. No one thought it would happen."

Now President Obama is saying he wants to handle the sequestration issue soon – right after the election. Obama explained his new strategy in an interview with the Des Moines Register that the White House thought was "off the record."

"The good news is that there's going to be a forcing mechanism to deal with what is the central ideological argument in Washington right now…when you combine the Bush cuts expiring, the sequester in place, the commitment of myself and my opponent…we're going to be in a position where I believe in the first six months we are going to solve that big piece of business," the president said.

But despite President Obama's intention to solve the budget stalemate in the beginning of his second term, House Republicans remain skeptical.

"The president talks about a 'balanced' approach to deficit reduction that includes spending cuts and reforms, but he has offered only tax hikes," said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.

"The president tells the American people the sequester proposed by his White House 'will not happen,' but he has never offered a plan to prevent it. The president says he's for helping small businesses, but he's pushing a plan that will raise their taxes. The credibility of anything the president says about 2013 is being demolished by the reality of his actions right now, in 2012."


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