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Outside View: Obama sequestration strategy
by Peter Morici
College Park, Md. (UPI) Feb 21, 2013


15 Republicans urge Obama to scrap Pentagon nominee
Washington (AFP) Feb 21, 2013 - Fifteen US Senate Republicans on Thursday urged President Barack Obama to withdraw his controversial pick to head the Pentagon, even as others in the party concede the nominee will be confirmed next week.

Obama's nominee, Republican former senator Chuck Hagel, has faced intense opposition by current lawmakers and was grilled by the likes of Senator John McCain during a testy hearing in which critics questioned Hagel's positions on Iran, nuclear weapons, Israel and the US troop surge in Iraq.

"Senator Hagel's performance at his confirmation hearing was deeply concerning, leading to serious doubts about his basic competence to meet the substantial demands of the office," the senators, led by number two Republican John Cornyn, said in a letter to Obama.

"While senator Hagel's erratic record and myriad conversions on key national security issues are troubling enough, his statements regarding Iran were disconcerting."

Hagel stumbled at times during his lengthy testimony late last month, mistakenly saying he favored "containment" of Iran instead of Obama's policy of preventing Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. He corrected himself later after being handed a note.

"If senator Hagel becomes secretary of defense the military option (against Iran) will have zero credibility," the senators wrote, adding that Hagel lacked the "broad-based bipartisan support" enjoyed by outgoing chief Leon Panetta that they said is critical to the success of the next Pentagon head.

Republicans managed to force a delay on Hagel's confirmation vote last week, saying some colleagues need more time to study Hagel's finances and speech transcripts.

White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted Hagel would "absolutely not" withdraw his name.

Delaying the confirmation, Carney said, would hobble the Defense Department's readiness during a period of rising Middle East tensions, and amid the challenges of winding down the war in Afghanistan and the continuing nuclear threat from North Korea.

"We need our new secretary of defense on the job to be part of the significant decisions that have to be made as we bring that war (in Afghanistan) to a responsible end," he said.

A vote is expected Tuesday in the Democratic-held Senate, and some Republicans foresee Hagel's confirmation.

McCain said on Sunday that he was "confident" Hagel would have the necessary votes, although he does not support him.

Hagel got a boost Thursday when a spokesman for Senator Richard Shelby said that "barring any unforeseen surprises" the Alabama Republican would support Hagel's nomination.

U.S. President Barack Obama is painting a dire picture if the House Republicans don't agree to raise taxes, yet again, to avert sequestration.

Unless the GOP agrees to a deal acceptable to Senate Democrats and the president to slash federal deficits by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, $85 billion in across-the-board cuts will be imposed automatically on March 1 -- virtually all in defense and other non-entitlement spending.

The president paints a painful picture -- 3-hour airport security lines, fewer meat inspectors and food shortages, furloughed air traffic controllers requiring cancellation of thousands of flights, teachers and police fired, 250,000 lost jobs throughout the economy, and more.

Most of this simply doesn't have to happen and a good deal is terrible exaggeration. Department heads within government agencies have considerable discretion in balancing individual accounts as required by the 2011 Budget Act.

For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has one of the largest teams of research economists on the planet and their dull reports should be cut before vital services like food inspections. Transferring administrative personnel to the economics department and furloughing a few more number crunchers would keep chicken and hamburger on the shelves at the supermarket.

Even if all spending cuts were through headcount reductions in federal departments and among contractors, each $111,000 of spending in the U.S. economy equates to one job; therefore, $85 billion even if wholly taken out in direct layoffs would imply about 77,000 jobs lost -- not 250,000 as the president claims.

Most layoffs can be avoided through partial furloughs -- a tactic Republican and Democratic governors employed during the Great Recession and the president could apply through executive orders.

Apparently, Obama wants a painful crisis to push Republicans into accepting even higher taxes or losing at the polls in 2014.

In January, the president just got more than $85 billion in new taxes on the wealthy, higher payroll taxes for everyone and an assortment of new levies on incomes, health insurance and medical devices through Obamacare.

The president and Democratic congressional leaders refuse to acknowledge what every bipartisan budget panel has concluded: genuine entitlement reforms -- such as, raising the retirement age for social security and federal pensions -- are necessary to bring deficits down to manageable size and maintain national security and other vital government functions.

Just has as in negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to avert the fiscal cliff last fall, the president has again offered no genuine spending cuts. Now, he complains sequestration will require the U.S. aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf must to be cut in half. A 10 percent cut in naval appropriations requires a 50 percent reduction in that essential effort, because the U.S. Navy is already stretched too thin by Obama's repeated defense cuts and his new commitments in the Pacific.

The president is motivated by political gain to manufacture for taxpayer pain. The real spending choices imposed by sequestration and the fact that the president wrote the law that requires it is poorly understood by most voters and he is exploiting the bully pulpit to wrongly blame House Republicans for what will surely follow.

The economy was teetering on recession as early as November and if Americans have another bout with 10 percent unemployment he will tag sequestration and the GOP for causing the mess.

Neither will be true. If we have a recession, other policy failures and the January tax increases are to blame, but long lines, shortages and rising unemployment will set the stage for ousting the House Republicans in 2014.

Americans will suffer needlessly when the cuts come, but Obama, seeing partisan advantage, is putting politics above public welfare.

(Peter Morici is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and widely published columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @pmorici1)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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