By Roger Larsen
HURON — As the clock winds down to Friday’s implementation of across-the-board spending cuts, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said a better approach that is unlikely to come before the deadline is smaller, targeted cuts that would put the country on a sustainable fiscal path.
Also, he said some lawmakers would like to temporarily give the administration more discretion in identifying cuts to low-priority spending programs.
“That’s something that’s gaining favor with a lot of Republicans in the Senate,” Thune said in a Wednesday conference call with reporters.
In the past week, he said President Obama has been speaking to audiences around the country, scaring them by warning that the so-called sequester will have a calamitous effect. Cabinet members have also been paraded in front of TV cameras with dire messages, he said.
Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., agrees with Thune that targeted cuts and responsible spending reductions are the better alternative.
“It’s no secret that the effects of sequestration will be significant to both our nation’s defense and to the state of South Dakota,” she said in a statement.
“This is why the House of Representatives has voted twice to replace these across-the-board cuts with targeted and responsible spending reductions,” she said. “The House has already acted. Now it’s time for the president and Senate Democrats to get serious about our nation’s out-of-control spending habit.”
Earlier this week, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said South Dakota would be particularly hard hit by the mandated funding cuts. South Dakotans and communities rely on the numerous programs that would be targeted, he said.
Also, federal grants subject to across-the-board cuts account for more than 10 percent of the state’s revenue, he said in a news release.
“We need a balanced approach to cutting our deficit that does not put the entire burden on working families and our military,” Johnson said.
“Profitable big oil companies, corporate jet owners and hedge fund managers can and should contribute their fair share to deficit reduction,” he said.
Republicans say tax increases should not be part of the equation at this point because taxes were raised two months ago.
The fact is, federal spending has increased by nearly 20 percent since 2008, and Washington, D.C., should be able to absorb $85 billion, or 2.4 percent, in cuts now, Thune said. That figure is equal to what the federal government borrows every month.
“At the very least, I think we ought to be giving the defense department more flexibility,” Thune said.
He expects a Senate floor debate today. But he also predicts a proposal from Democrats to increase taxes will fail, as will a Republican plan involving targeted cuts.
The next deadline is March 27, when the funding resolution for the federal government expires, That will be another opportunity for Congress to redistribute reductions, Thune said.
He introduced a sequestration transparency bill last summer calling for the White House to specify where the cuts would come. But he said that was ignored, and now scare tactics are being used at the 11th hour.
“It’s not like we didn’t see this coming,” Thune said.
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