Fact-check: Woodward wrote that Obama administration proposed sequester

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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During Monday evening’s final presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, the president said he and his administration didn’t offer the so-called budget “sequester” as a tool to cut the military budget, despite reports alleging he did.

“The sequester is not something that I proposed,” Obama said during the debate in Boca Raton, Fla. “It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”

That directly contradicts a 2012 book from investigative journalist Bob Woodward — the Washington Post editor who, with Carl Bernstein, took down President Richard Nixon over the 1970s-era Watergate scandal.

“Then-OMB Director Jack Lew, now the White House chief of staff, and White House Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors pitched the idea to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Woodward writes,” according to a Sept. 7 story appearing on the Politico website.

“Under the deal, which Republicans accepted after several rounds of bargaining, the federal debt ceiling was raised — staving off a potential financial crisis.”

Sequestration arises from the Budget Control Act that the debt-reduction super committee passed last year. The super committee’s deficit reduction plan, which Obama signed into law, put in place a trigger that will automatically make steep cuts to the Department of Defense budget — about $110 billion — on Jan. 2 if no alternative plan is adopted to continue financing the federal government moving forward.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s has said that those cuts would cause about 1.5 million Americans to lose their jobs over the course of 10 years. In total, the job losses would add about one full percentage point to the national unemployment rate.

About 200,000 of those lost jobs would include active duty troops phased out under early forced retirement. That number is larger than the entire U.S. Marine Corps.

Both Republicans and Democrats supported the super committee deal last year. Although there was bipartisan support for it then, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon later argued that it was supposed to be a “poison pill” that would guarantee that all parties came to the negotiating table” to talk about specific budget cuts instead of “arbitrary, across-the-board cuts to every part of the military.” Other top congressional Republicans who had supported the initial deal have also changed their positions since and President Obama signed the deal into law.

Now, as the crisis looms with no solution, it appears President Obama and his administration are planning to blame congressional Republicans for the consequences. Obama’s Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients hinted as much during his testimony Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee.

“What is holding up now is the Republican refusal to have the wealthiest two percent pay their fair share,” Zients said during the hearing, in response to a question from Virginia Republican Rep. Randy Forbes, one prominent GOP House member who opposed the sequester.

Zients now claims, according to his prepared testimony, that “[s]equestration is a blunt, indiscriminate instrument designed to force congressional action on achieving a balanced deficit reduction plan” and that it “is not the responsible way for our nation to achieve deficit reduction.”

But as Rep. Forbes noted in an interview with The Daily Caller and during another recent hearing, Zients testified before Congress as recently as February that Obama did support keeping the sequester.

“The president is not proposing that the sequester go away,” Zients told Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions during a Feb. 14 Senate Budget Committee hearing. “The sequester is a very important forcing function for us to do deficit reduction. So the sequester will be replaced with a balanced approach to deficit reduction.” (RELATED: Rep. Forbes says Obama holding national security “hostage” to “blackmail Republicans into raising taxes”)

In that interview, Forbes said that if Obama wants to actually solve the budget problem instead of moving forward with “draconian” cuts, he must come to the table with a plan of his own.

“The commander-in-chief can’t fix this with press conferences, he can’t fix this with polling or focus groups,” Forbes said. “He needs to come to the table and have a proposal and it needs to garner more than zero votes.”

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Matthew Boyle