All-Star Panel: Politics at work over sequestration cuts

All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 20, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes it is essential that we avoid these cuts. It is bad policy. The speaker himself says it is bad policy. It will go in to effect and those Americans will lose jobs because Republicans made a choice for that to happen.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS, D - MT: The president is part of the sequester. The White House recommended it, frankly, back in August, 2011. So now we are feeling the effects of it. I don't want to say the president is solely to blame. He's not. It's both the president and Congress and basically the president and the speaker who put together this deal.

REP. RANDY FORBES, R - VA: The president could have stopped it. The House of Representatives has passed not one, but two bills that would have stopped it. The Senate has done nothing.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: That was Democratic Senator Max Baucus in the middle there. White House probably saying that wasn't too helpful in the talking points today as they are continuing to talk as we are nine days out from the sequester setting in, as we look at the big picture here, the sequester in the big picture, as you look at the budget overall -- $3.6 trillion budget and where the sequester is, $85 billion for this year, 2.4 percent.

We've heard what the sequester would likely do. It is still a cut in spending growth. The government would still grow. But you've heard the president and you've heard Republicans talk about what could possibly happen.

But here is a quote from the Washington Post about Democrats talking about this, quote, "Democrats no longer see the sequester as sufficient to force Republicans to cave on new revenues; rather, they increasingly see the looming government shutdown deadline of March 27 as the real means for them to force a GOP surrender." In other words, they are ready to fight another day.

Let's bring in our panel, Tucker Carlson, editor of TheDailyCaller.com, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK A.B., what is your take?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, I really hope that Douglas Holtz-Eakin and other experts are right that there is not going to be a considerable hit to consumer demand from the sequester. But I'm not feeling faithful about that. I think that the president's 11th hour urgency about the sequester is as disingenuous as the Republicans' sudden peace with it. Republicans have been passed two bills to replace the sequester. They have been telling us since July of 2011 the sky was going to fall.

And it is not the amount of the overall budget that we're talking about. It is the way. $45 billion in defense cuts go to -- are going to be cut out of less than half of defense because so much is protected. It's the way that these cuts happen, 800,000 civilian employees today received e-mail saying you're going to have to look at upward at a nearly 20 percent pay cut. In some families that is going to – with two government workers with the domestic and defense spending, we are looking at two parents losing considerable pay this year. They will not be going to the beach on the Eastern seaboard this summer. They might not go to grandma's in Michigan. I hope this is going to go well.

But if things get tough at shipyard back home and the pizzeria closes and so does the barbershop, congressmen are going to hear about this, after the budget fight of March, probably into late May or early June, and then they are going to have a long hot summer. And I don't know that we can sit here and say that this is going to be fine.

I know the Republicans are hell-bent to letting this through. They say it is a make-or-break fight for them, and they will not back down. It's the only cuts they can pocket. So it is going through. And, by the way, there is no plan between March 1 and March 27 for these to be replaced. The Republicans don't have a plan in a file draw in the Capitol building. So I think it sounds awful and I hope I'm wrong.

BAIER: Tucker, as far as the defense, national security issue, we are talking civilian employees here. And in the OMB, they have a report out about the ability to -- on national security issues. And here is what the report says, "While the Department of Defense would be able to shift funds to ensure war fighting and critical military readiness capabilities were not degraded," saying that those things, in other words moving aircraft carriers would be OK, "sequestration would result in a reduction in readiness of many non-deployed units, delays in investments in new equipment and facilities, cutbacks in equipment repairs, declines in military research and development efforts, and reductions in base services for military families."  Go ahead.

TUCKER CARLSON, EDITOR, THEDAILYCALLER.COM: Yes. This is clearly not the efficient way to cut government. On the other hand it would result in actual cuts. We are five years past one of the worst recessions in any of our lifetimes, and government has only grown. Meanwhile, the rest of the country has cut back. How many businesses have pared two percent of their operating budget over the past five years? Mine has, everybody's has.

So just to put this in some perspective, it's not cataclysmic. I think the politics of it are pretty clear. I agree with A.B. that the president is disingenuous; he's not looking for a deal. He is looking for a fight. This is about the 2014 elections, this is about the belief on the part of some in the White House that they can win, they can take back the House. They'll divide Republicans by doing this. I also, finally agree that it is inevitable, that we will reach sequestration for sure.

BAIER: Could somebody explain to me why Congress, why the president just doesn't say tomorrow, fine, transfer authority. Pentagon, you have transfer authority. You can do priorities. Take out of the conferences. You don't have to go to the stupid conference to do xyz. Save the personnel. Don't have the child care problem. Don't have the xyz proble. Have transfer authority for these agencies and don't make it an issue. Why don't they pass a bill tomorrow?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: That is precisely why this is the most ridiculously hyped Armageddon since the Mayan calendar. In fact it's made – it looks worse than the Mayan disaster.

This, as you say, can be solved in a day in an hour by allowing a transfer of funds. It's incredibly soluble, easily soluble. And the president is the one who ought to propose it. He won't, of course, because he is looking for a fight and not a solution.

But secondly, look at this in perspective. In terms of the gross domestic product of our economy this is .03 of -- it's a third of one percent on the domestic side, well overall it's 2.5 cents on the dollar. And overall on the non-defense side it is a penny-and-a-half on the dollar of reductions.  Here we are with a debt of $16 trillion and the argument today is that if we cut a penny-and-a-half on non-defense spending in one year it's going to be the end of the world. If so, then we are hopelessly in debt and we're going to end up like Greece --

BAIER: I want to continue this conversation, call an audible here, and talk about sequestration and this transfer authority question, about why that's not happening on both sides, when the panel continues after the break.

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