If you weren’t watching Monday night’s presidential campaign debate in Boca Raton, Fla., you missed at least one jaw-dropping assertion. In a discussion of the “sequestration” spending cuts slated to slash defense and other budget items starting in January, President Obama declared that the sequester “will not happen.”
This definitive statement came as a shock to those of us who are concerned about how the sequester will affect our nation’s defense and security needs. We weren’t aware the president had a serious plan for averting these cuts, which virtually no one in Washington wants.
Moreover, it didn’t appear any negotiations with Congress had been taking place. As late as October 17, House Speaker John Boehner was telling reporters he hadn’t talked about sequestration or the looming “fiscal cliff” in four months.
So does the president’s stating that sequestration “will not happen” mean his administration has a grand, heretofore secret plan to avert the cuts? Of course not. Within minutes, his campaign team started walking back his remark.
According to news reports, the backtracking began almost immediately. Politico reported that the president’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, “toned down” Obama’s remark when speaking to reporters, correcting the president’s wording to say that sequestration “should not happen.”
There’s a world of difference between “will not happen” and “should not happen,” of course: the first is a forthright declaration of fact, while the second is merely a statement of preference. The verbal shift, when combined with the lack of communication with Congress on the issue, is telling—it suggests the Obama administration has no post-election plan for dealing with sequestration.
At Concerned Veterans for America, I’ve argued repeatedly in recent months that the defense budget is in serious need of smart reform to wring out inefficiencies, outdated programs, duplication and flat-out waste. We need to trim the fat without hitting the muscle. But the path of sequestration, which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta likens to a “meat ax,” is the opposite of “smart reform.”