White House Says Sequester Report Will Be A Week Late
Does anyone really think the September 6 deadline included in the Sequester Transparency Act was selected by accident?
September 6 was the date Congress decided that OMB should complete a report that provided the details on the across-the-board spending cuts that were triggered when the anything-but-super committee last November failed to agree on a deficit reduction plan. It also just happened to be the first day after the Democratic National Convention and the start of what many Democrats wanted to be a three-day weekend news cycle about the success of the convention and the Obama campaign.
So it's hardly a surprise that senior congressional Republicans expressed outrage this past week when OMB missed the deadline.
For the record, the White House said that the delay was because it was taking longer than expected to do the calculations required in the report.
Sequesters are indeed very complicated, especially because the level of detail OMB must do — by program, project, and activity — is not something it does at any other time in the budget process. Many departments and agencies don't even have an established list of the projects and activities for each of its authorized programs because sequesters haven't been part of the budget rules for more than a decade. In addition, there are few analysts left at OMB who were there when the last sequester occurred.
In other words, the stated reason for the delay is definitely very plausible.
However, as with everything else having to do with the federal budget these days, it would not be at all surprising if political considerations like wanting to keep a discussion of the sequester out of the news cycle were also a factor.
Having said all this, the release of the sequester report will be a nonevent rather than a momentous occasion in the annals of federal budgeting. The report is most likely to be a straight forward application of the spending cut rules included in the Budget Control Act and something that preserves the few options that law provides to the White House. At most it will be a one-day story that sequester opponents and supporters alike will be able to use for their own purposes. It won’t change the politics of the budget or the fiscal cliff in any way.
What makes all of the GOP complaints about the delay even more ridiculous is that Congress was out of session on the day the report was due and the event the report was about -- the sequester -- won't happen for several months. In other words, a few days delay won't affect the sequester at all.