Traverse City Record-Eagle


March 8, 2014

Fact Check: Hagel says Congress responsible for defense cuts


President Barack Obama (has) released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 ... One point of contention is that the budget he proposed will reduce the army to its smallest size since 1940.

On CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told host Bob Schieffer that he’s not responsible for those cuts.

“It isn’t me cutting the budget,” he said. “It’s the Congress’ decision on sequestration. So it isn’t the secretary of defense or the president doing this, and I think we should clear that up a little bit here, too.”

At first glance, Hagel attributing defense cuts to Congress contradicts Obama’s proposed budget, which itself cuts Department of Defense funding levels. PolitiFact wanted to review how the cuts came to be, and how that affects the defense budget.

How the sequester came to be

Congress passed the Budget Control Act in August 2011 to resolve the debt ceiling crisis. Republicans and some Democrats insisted that the Obama administration offset an increase in the debt ceiling, the amount of money the treasury can borrow, with a plan to reduce the nation’s debt. Had Congress not passed this law, the United States could’ve defaulted on payments like Social Security and Medicare for the first time in history.

The Budget Control Act included $1.2 trillion in cuts and formed a joint House and Senate super-committee to find another $1.2 trillion by Nov. 23, 2011.

Since the super-committee failed to do this, the law called for sequestration, or across-the-board spending cuts, to go into effect in 2013. Each year, budget cuts are split evenly between non-war defense spending and discretionary domestic spending.

Lawmakers in both chambers passed this act with bipartisan support, and then Obama signed it into law.

We’ve reported before that the Obama administration originally proposed the sequester as a tactic to get Congress to come up with more targeted spending cuts. Since both Democrats and Republicans stood to lose funding for things they supported, it was widely thought that they would work out a deficit reduction and stop the sequester before 2013. Essentially, Congress and Obama both approved a measure they’re now unhappy with and forced to work around.

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