GOP senator calls for changing automatic spending cuts

GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania wants to curtail the hit the Defense Department would take under automatic cuts.

Story highlights

  • Sen. Toomey says keep the full $1.2 trillion in cuts, but ease the military's burden
  • Democratic Sen. Schumer calls that a bad idea
  • President Obama has threatened to veto attempts to reduce the required spending cuts
  • The cuts are mandated under law by the failure of Congress to reach a deficit agreement

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania called Sunday for reconfiguring the automatic spending cuts required by Congress due to last week's failure by the special joint deficit reduction committee to reach a deal.

Toomey, a member of the so-called "super committee," told the ABC program "This Week" that he wanted to change the formula for making $1.2 trillion in budget cuts mandated under legislation passed in August.

The law, which Toomey opposed, said the cuts must be evenly divided between the military and domestic spending. Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, veterans' benefits and other politically sensitive programs are spared the budget ax.

Toomey expressed the view of conservatives that the required cuts were weighted too heavily toward the military. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a Democrat, also has warned that the automatic cuts will undermine military capability.

The forced spending cuts, under a process called sequestration, were intended to bring painful consequences for both parties if they failed come up with significant deficit reduction steps.

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President Barack Obama has threatened to veto any attempt by Congress to soften the impact of the automatic cuts, which don't take effect until 2013.

While legislators have more than a year to work out an agreement to avoid the automatic cuts, the chances are considered remote for such comprehensive deal-making in a presidential election year.

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Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that removing the possibility of the automatic cuts would make a deficit reduction agreement "impossible."

The whole purpose of the sequestration trigger was to have "very sharp knives hanging over the heads of both parties," Schumer said. Taking away one of the knives, such as the deep military cuts, would allow Republicans to happily accept the other automatic reductions disliked by Democrats, he noted.

The automatic cuts were a trigger mechanism intended to motivate the 12-member special deficit panel, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate, to reach a deal by their November 23 deadline.

The committee announced on November 21 that it was unable to work out an agreement.