Carney Can't Answer Woodward Book Charge that Sequester Was White House Idea

By Fred Lucas | September 10, 2012 | 5:06pm EDT

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

( - White House Press Secretary Jay Carney did not know if potentially forcing $500 billion in cuts in the Defense Department budget originated from the administration, as a new book by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward asserts.

"I don't know where the idea came out of," Carney told reporters. "There have been sequesters – I think in Gramm-Ruddman there was a sequester, the idea of a forcing mechanism. I think everybody in the process when there wasn't a grand bargain to be achieved because of the Republicans refusal to accept balance, the idea of a forcing mechanism was agreed upon and then it was a question of what would be contained within that forcing mechanism."

Woodward's book, "The Price of Politics," details the standoff between President Barack Obama and House Republicans regarding the debt ceiling increase. The agreement finally reached included possible cuts of $500 billion of defense cuts by Jan. 2, 2013.

The GOP-controlled House passed a measure in May that would make cuts to compensate for and avoid the military cuts. However, the bill went nowhere in the Democratically-controlled Senate.

The book will be released on Tuesday, but several media organizations have reported that Obama administration officials sought the military sequestration. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that on page 326, Woodward describes how sequestration was pitched by Obama budget director Jack Lew and legislative affairs chief Rob Nabors, and initially was not well received by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who said, "Get the hell out of here. ... That's insane. The White House surely will come up with a plan that will save the day. And you come to me with sequestration?"

The book reports that the White House won Reid over on the matter after hearing that "they would design it so that half the threatened cuts would be from the Defense Department," with far less coming from entitlements.

The book reportedly is critical of Obama's leadership in the matter and has become a talking point for Republicans.

“The book confirms previous reporting about how the Speaker, Majority Leader, and the president had a framework of a deal on tax and entitlement reform, and then the president moved the goalposts and lost his courage," Kevin Smith, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said in a statement. "Presidents have a responsibility to lead, and this president has failed the test of leadership when it comes to creating jobs and addressing our debt crisis.”

The military cuts he referred to were part of a deal reached by Obama and House Republicans last year on increasing the debt limit. After the super committee did not reach a plan, automatic budget cuts and tax hikes are set to take place at the end of the year unless further congressional action is taken. Although defense is only 20 percent of the federal budget, it would be 50 percent of the automatic cuts.

“Today we’re just months away from an arbitrary mandatory budget reduction that would saddle the military with $1 trillion in cuts, severely shrink our force structure, and impair our ability to meet and deter threats,” Romney said.

If the sequestration takes effect in January, the defense budget would be cut an additional $492 billion on top of the $487 billion in cuts already being implemented, according to the House Armed Services Committee. This would separate another 100,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen from services, which would be the smallest force since 1940, according to the committee.

The cuts would lead to an estimated 1 million lost private sector jobs, according to the Armed Services Committee, with regards to military contractors and businesses located near military bases. The 10 states that will feel the largest pain as a percentage of the state economy are Virginia, Connecticut, Alabama, Arizona, Maryland, Alaska, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Missouri, the committee said.

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