On sequestration, lawmakers wail while some conservatives hail

Chris Moody

Washington is in panic mode over the so-called sequester—automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to be triggered March 1 if Congress and the White House can't reach a deficit reduction deal. Just days before the federal budget will be forced to shave less than 3 percent from its annual budget, politicos from President Barack Obama to Republican House Speaker John Boehner are prophesying Armageddon.

But while most lawmakers flail through the nation's capital as if their hair just caught fire, a coalition of conservative groups are urging lawmakers to stop worrying and learn to love the sequester.

Americans for Prosperity, for example, is one of a few organizations hailing the looming budget cuts as a potential victory. The group, backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, has dispatched members from its network of activists to visit 10 lawmakers' state offices in Florida, North Carolina, Arkansas and Minnesota urging them to let the across-the-board cuts take their course. The group is also circulating a petition arguing that sequestration is "not enough" and plans to release online ads.

"Just make the cuts," AFP President Tim Phillips told Yahoo News in an interview. "These are modest cuts. It's about 2 cents roughly on every dollar of federal spending."

Meanwhile, AFP is urging its 2.3 million members to flood congressional officers with letters calling on them not to make a deal to avoid the cuts. "Thankfully, Congress and the President have already agreed to cut $85 billion from the budget this year," the form letter reads. "That’s not enough but it’s a good first step. I urge you not to undo those spending cuts."

The sequestration plan, crafted in 2011 as part of deficit reduction negotiations to encourage both Republicans and Democrats to find a compromise, will affect both domestic discretionary spending and the defense budget. Phillips conceded that he felt the defense cuts were "disproportionately tough," but said it was worth it to achieve that level of spending cuts.

"The president and Senate Democrats all agreed to this during the debt limit deal," he said. "They ought to keep their word."

Meanwhile, a group of nearly 50 leaders of conservative organizations signed onto a letter that called for passage of the cuts—even those that affect the Pentagon, an area of government spending the right rarely likes to touch.

"While many conservatives would prefer reprogramming defense cuts to other areas of discretionary spending (dollar for dollar cuts in the same year), the current sequester savings are better than none at all," the letter, signed by Club for Growth President Chris Chocala, former attorney general Edwin Meese, who served under President Ronald Reagan, and others, read.

At least for now, all signs suggest these groups will get their wish. The Senate this week is poised to vote on a Democrat-sponsored deficit-reduction package that mixes spending cuts with tax increases, but Republicans in the House and Senate have refused to approve any measure that increases taxes. Lawmakers have until Friday to secure a deal.