Americans will hear a lot about sequestration over the next several months, including in the 2012 presidential debates, as the automatic across-the-board spending cuts grow closer to taking effect. So where do President Barack Obama and 2012 election challenger Mitt Romney stand on sequestration? And what is sequestration anyway?
The term sequestration is used to describe mandatory spending cuts in the federal budget. Sequestration became an issue in the 2012 presidential contest because sequestration cuts are set to take effect in January 2013, when the next president take office.
The spending cuts were included in the Budget Control Act of 2011 and were designed to encourage Congress to reduce the annual deficit on its own by $1.2 billion by the end of 2012. If lawmakers fail to do so, the law will trigger automatic budget cuts, including those to to the 2013 national security budget.
Romney has called sequestration a "strange proposal" and one that he would halt if elected. He has said the automatic spending cuts to the U.S. military, amounting to more than $1 trillion over a decade, would be disastrous.
"You keep going around the world, it is still a troubled and dangerous world and the idea of cutting our military commitment by a trillion dollars over this decade is unthinkable and devastating and when I become president of the United States, we will stop it," he said last week.
Oddly enough, the Budget Control Act passed in Congress with the support of many deficit-hawk Republicans, including Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate. Ryan has defended his vote in support of the act by saying the sequestration was never intended to take effect.
"The goal was never that these defense cuts actually occur, the goal is that we get to work and cut spending so that we prevent those defense cuts," Ryan has said, casting blame instead on Obama and the U.S. Senate for not accepting proposed budget cuts offered by the Super Congress.
Romney has called the Republican support of the Budget Control Act and sequestration cuts a "mistake."
Though many Republicans fault Obama for initially proposed the idea of sequestration, to force Republicans to negotiate on deficit-reduction ideas, the president's administration has come out in opposition of the actual defense spending cuts.
"The specter of harmful across-the-board cuts to defense and nondefense programs was intended to drive both sides to compromise. Congress can and should take action to avoid it by passing a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction package," the White House Office of Management and Budget wrote in in August.
"As the Administration has made clear, no amount of planning can mitigate the effect of these cuts. Sequestration is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument. It is not the responsible way for our Nation to achieve deficit reduction."