WASHINGTON -- The Democratic Party's top think tank is urging lawmakers to accept nothing short of ending sequestration during upcoming budget cuts.
The Center for American Progress, a group with strong ties to the Obama administration, will release a report on Thursday detailing damage caused by the sequester's across-the-board budget cuts and warning lawmakers the havoc will worsen dramatically if the cuts remain in place for another year.
"Sequestration was never meant to happen, and Congress made a mistake by allowing it to kick in," reads the report, shared with The Huffington Post before its release. "As long as that mistake is fixed soon, the damage can be contained. As Congress and President Barack Obama negotiate a budget agreement, the primary focus should be growing the economy. That means neither side should accept any budget agreement that allows sequestration to continue for another full year."
The timing is not coincidental. Congressional budget negotiators have less than a month to come to an agreement on government spending levels for the next year. Figuring out ways to alleviate sequestration is a top priority. As the law now stands, the cuts will deepen in the next year, to $109 billion from $85 billion. The Department of Defense will absorb $20 billion more in fiscal 2014 cuts than in fiscal 2013.
Discretionary spending-dependent programs also will suffer. As the Center for American Progress report notes, many agencies were able to minimize the pain of sequestration by using accounting gimmicks or dipping into emergency funds. Those tricks and funds are now depleted.
"Federal agencies have implemented sequestration under the assumption that it is a short-term glitch -- one that Congress will soon fix. If sequestration is indeed just a one-year mistake, then it makes sense to use budget gimmicks and one-time fixes to postpone the real cuts," the report reads. "Federal agencies have weathered sequestration as best they can, as long as it is just a short-term problem. But if sequestration becomes the new normal, all of these quick fixes will have only made things worse for the American people."
House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee have said already that they find it impossible to work under sequestration, though their primary concern remains damage to defense. During a conference meeting this week, however, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged Republican senators to hold the line on spending caps. The message he conveyed, according to aides in the room, was that sequester relief should only be exchanged for longer-lasting entitlement reforms.
"He’s said publicly that he supports the Budget Control Act levels which established sequestration, and that he’s open to swapping in real mandatory savings," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said.
Democrats say that they aren't going to slash entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare for the sake of short-term sequester relief. "That's not happening," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, told the Huffington Post.
So that leaves negotiators with limited options. The panel of lawmakers trying to hammer out a deal could close tax loopholes as a way to pay for sequestration relief. But House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been adamant that additional revenue should not be in the mix. The other possibility is going after less-controversial mandatory spending items, like agricultural subsidies.
Even with the narrow path forward, top negotiators expressed optimism on Wednesday that they could hammer out a deal.
Read the full Center for American Progress report: