|Some Want Sequester to Happen|
|By CHRIS GOOD (@c_good)||Feb 26, 2013, 6:22 PM|
Mark Lucas wouldn't mind seeing America's defense budget cut by billions.
"There's quite a bit of waste within the military," Lucas, who serves as Iowa state director for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), told ABC News. "Being in there for 10 years, I've seen quite a bit of it."
With the budget sequester set to kick in on Friday, the former Army ranger is among a small chorus of conservatives saying bring on the cuts.
Lucas cited duplicative equipment purchases, military-run golf courses and lavish food on larger bases -- unlike the chow he endured at a combat operations post in Afghanistan with about 120 other soldiers.
"These guys would have very good food, and I'm talking almost like a buffet style, shrimp and steak once a week, ice cream, all this stuff," Lucas said. "They had Burger Kings and Pizza Huts and McDonald's. And I said to myself, 'Do we really need this?'"
Lucas and AFP would like to see the sequester modified, with federal agencies granted more authority to target the cuts and avoid the more dire consequences. But the group wants the cuts to happen.
"We're very supportive of the sequestration cuts but would prefer to see more targeted cuts at the same level," said the group's spokesman, Levi Russell.
As President Obama and his Cabinet members are sounding the sequester alarm bells, AFP's willingness shows that not everyone is running for the hills.
Read more: 57 Terrible Consequences of the Sequester
Obama traveled to Norfolk, Va., on Tuesday to speak at a shipyard about cuts and layoffs to defense contractors. In his most recent weekly radio address, he told Americans that the Navy has already kept an aircraft carrier home instead of deploying it to the Persian Gulf. And last week, he spoke before national TV cameras at the White House, warning that first responders would be laid off.
Homeland Security Secretary Jane Napolitano has warned that the sequester will "leave critical infrastructure vulnerable to attacks." Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has warned that air travel will back up after the Federal Aviation Administration furloughs air traffic controllers. And the heads of 18 other federal agencies told Congress that terrible things will happen unless the sequester is pushed off.
Some Republicans have accused the president of scaremongering to gin up popular support for tax hikes. Obama has warned of calamity and demanded compromise in the next breath, and a few Republicans have rejected this as a false choice.
Read more: Boehner Hopes Senate 'Gets Off Their Ass'
"I don't think the president's focused on trying to find a solution to the sequester," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday. "For 16 months, the president's been traveling all over the country holding rallies, instead of sitting down with Senate leaders in order to try to forge an agreement over there in order to move the bill."
After Obama spoke to governors at the this week, Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told ABC News' Jonathan Karl outside the White House that the president is exaggerating the sequester's consequences.
"He's trying to scare the American people," Jindal said. "He's trying to distort the impact."
Looming over the discussion is the possibility that Congress will pass some kind of workaround, letting federal agents spread the cuts to less-critical areas.
The indiscriminate cuts have been called "stupid" on more than one occasion, but the White House Office of Management and Budget said agencies have little flexibility to pick and choose how to save money. According to the law drafted and signed in 2011, the cuts are spread evenly at the program level, an OMB official told ABC News this week.
However, some people just think the cuts won't be as bad as advertised.
Leading that charge is Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who questioned the recent hyperventilating on "Fox News Sunday."
"Look, the federal government is twice the size it was 11 years ago. We are spending almost $4,000 per person, per year," Coburn said. "Some of it is not smart. But it's the only way Washington, Republicans and Democrats, are ever going to get out of both parties some spending cuts."
Part of Coburn's bring-on-the-sequester attitude is driven by a belief that agencies do have the flexibility to prevent it from being so disastrous, despite their complaints.
"If the secretary of transportation can assure us all the planes are going to be safe, then the Department of Homeland Security can assure us that we can get through the airports on time," Coburn said. "They have plenty of flexibility in terms of discretion on how they spend money. There are easy ways to cut this money that the American people will never feel."
Coburn's spokesman, John Hart, pointed out that OMB has urged agencies to use all the flexibility at their disposal, and that agencies can still cut spending on the least critical elements within a given program.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., agreed.
"The sequester does not have to mean furloughs," Pompeo said in a statement released to the media as part of a back-and-forth with White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday. "The president is choosing to make this minor reduction in spending painful -- by furloughing people -- in order to pursue his twin goals of raising taxes and increasing the size of the federal government."
Pompeo called the sequester a "home run" and said it "begins to put America back on the right fiscal track."
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, noted in a memo to reporters that the sequester amounts to "just two cents" -- more accurately, 2.3 cents, according to the Congressional Budget Office -- out of every dollar the federal government spends.
"$85 billion is negligible compared to Obama's disastrous fiscal record," the RNC wrote.
The free-enterprise group Club for Growth isn't too worried about sequestration, either.
"We're in favor of Congress doing what they said they were going to do," said the group's spokesman, Barney Keller -- meaning enact sequestration as promised, after the ill-fated deficit "supercommittee" failed to garner a deficit deal in 2011.
Congress and Obama agreed on sequestration as the intentionally unpleasant consequence if the supercommittee failed. Since then, they've twice extended their own deadline, pushing the sequester back and giving themselves more time to negotiate.
Obama suggested last week that Congress should pass "a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms" to delay the sequester once more and give Republicans and Democrats more time to reach a long-term deal.
"We're OK with reconfiguring it," Keller said. "We don't care where the cuts come from. We just think they should do the cuts."