Would Sequester Cuts Make US A Second-Rate Power?

With sweeping budget cuts looming, we pressed the White House today about how these cuts would really impact America's military might:

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: Jay, the current secretary of defense said that if the sequester cuts go into effect, we would turn into a second-rate power. Does the president agree that if these cuts go into effect, America will become a second-rate power?

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: The president agrees with his secretary of defense - his current as well as his future. He agrees with the speaker of the House, he agrees with the numerous Republicans who have said on the record that the onerous cuts in the sequester to defense - the across-the-board, indiscriminate cuts to defense will harm our national security interests, will reduce our readiness, will result in a reduction in flight hours, will result - have resulted already in changes in our rotation for aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf. These are real-world consequences. They also will result, as we learned yesterday, in hundreds of thousands of furlough notices to the men and women who are part of the national security team who work every day to protect the United States and our citizens. So, you know, the consequences here are real.

KARL: But, Jay -

CARNEY: What we unfortunately see these days - including in an article in The New York Times today - is an indication from Republicans that they don't really care; that they're anticipating the sequester will go into effect. And they're not willing to do what the American public - as we've seen in poll after poll - overwhelmingly supports, which is adopt the president's position of eliminating the sequester through a balanced deficit reduction plan.

They're not willing to protect the jobs of what the CBO predicts could be up to 750,000 Americans by asking oil and gas companies to forego their taxpayer subsidies or corporate jet owners to give up their special tax break. They're not willing to do that, and this is very disappointing.

KARL: But Jay, on the military spending specifically, even if the cuts go into effect, the U.S. will spend more than China, Russia, all of Europe combined, far more. If we're a second-rate power, who's the first-rate power?

CARNEY: Look, I don't think the issue here is the language you use to describe it, because every characterization you make of it, if you're being honest about it, is negative. The impact will be negative. It will harm our national security, and that is a problem.

Moreover, it will harm the tens of thousands of children who would be thrown off of Head Start. It will harm children who depend on mental health services, seniors who depend on services. It will harm first responders across the country who will get furlough notices or layoff notices, teachers and the like.

This is - the consequences of this are real. They are not - this is not just - there seems to be a willingness, unfortunately, among Republicans on the Hill to reject the opinions of the vast majority of the American people, reject, obviously, the reasoned and moderate propositions put forward by and proposals put forward by the president and to adopt this approach that says, you know, again, we would rather protect these special interest tax breaks than take action, very simple action, to keep those Americans in their jobs.

KARL: But put aside the Republicans for a while. Well, what do you say to Americans who, through this recession, had to go through - they've had to make adjustments in their own family budgets and to think that, you know, cutting 3 percent of an overall budget, 10 percent of a specific part of the budget, that that - the only way to do that is to do these draconian cuts; it will jeopardize national security, will mean forest fires won't be able to put out (sic), will mean prosecutors will have to let crooks go. I mean, how do you - what do you say to American businesspeople -

CARNEY: Look, the facts are the facts, Jon, and what we would say is the sequester… as everyone recognized at the time, was specifically designed to be so loathsome that Congress would actually be compelled to compromise - that was the idea - and compromise in coming up with the $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction in a way that protected our national security and that protected our vital interests like the children on Head Start or the seniors who rely on services, teachers and first responders. You know, the whole point was for it to be this bad, so that Congress would never go along with it.

Unfortunately, there has been a change of heart in Congress, apparently, on the Republican side, especially in the House, and an embrace of an approach that has real world consequences for real people who are sitting at home or will be tonight after work, wondering if they're going to have a job in a month or two months.