The Obama administration today laid out on paper - 400 pages of it - the details of $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that would take effect at the end of the year unless Congress strikes a deal. The picture is not pretty.
Billions of dollars would be slashed from defense operations and maintenance programs, says the administration. Medicare would take a two-percent hit, trimming millions in payouts to health care providers. Scientific research programs would be gutted. Aid for the poor and needy would be sharply curtailed.
More than a billion dollars would even be wiped from the State Department's diplomatic and consular program, including $127 million for embassy security, construction and maintenance and $2 million for the protection of foreign missions and officials, according to the document.
"The report leaves no question that the sequestration would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments and core government functions," the administration writes in the report, which was submitted to Congress as required by law.
"Sequestration" is the technical name for the across-the-board spending cuts that were agreed to by bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress last year as a penalty for failing to achieve a deficit reduction plan. They take effect on Jan. 2, 2013, unless lawmakers come up with a different plan totaling $1.2 trillion.
"It was intended to drive both sides to compromise, it was never intended to be implemented," a senior administration official said.
In releasing the report the White House emphasized that it had no discretion in deciding what programs would be cut or by how much. Those details were specified by lawmakers as part of the debt ceiling deal reached last year, officials said.
However, the document immediately provided fresh political fodder for Republicans, who have accused Obama and Democrats of being willing to stomach the deep cuts. The critics do not mention, however, that many Republicans also voted for the plan, including House Speaker John Boehner and GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan.
"This report confirms that the president's 'sequester' is a serious threat to our national security and must be replaced," Boehner said in a statement. "But with only a few months before they're scheduled to go into effect, President Obama and Senate Democrats have taken no action whatsoever to avert these cuts. "
House Republicans have passed a measure to avoid the drastic cuts, but Democrats have balked because their plan includes no new revenue (tax increases). To resolve the standoff, both sides will need to compromise on taxes.
"I want to be very clear that the administration does not support the indiscriminate, across the board cuts detailed in this report," a senior administration official said. "We believe, the administration believes, that these cuts should never be implemented."
Should lawmakers fail to reach a deal, some budget items will be spared: Veterans benefits, military personnel, and salaries for members of Congress, among other exempt categories.