Trump, lawmakers have consistently sidestepped the defense sequester

In The News, Covid19Trump, lawmakers have consistently sidestepped the defense sequester

Budget & Tax, In The News,  | Quick Take
Jul 16, 2020  | 3 min read | Print Article

This article by Louis Jacobson first appeared in Politifact on July 15, 2020

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised to end the tight budget restrictions that were put in place on the military following a failure to reach a bipartisan spending agreement in 2013.

The process Trump was targeting — known as sequestration — remains on the books, but since 2018, it has essentially been displaced by new spending bills, and the limitations are due to end after 2021.

Originally, sequestration was designed to be a draconian last resort to push representatives from the two parties to come to an agreement. The sequester would force across-the-board budget cuts in excess of $1 trillion over a decade — a prospect seemingly too toxic for lawmakers to contemplate. But when the negotiations between the parties failed, the cuts were enacted by default.

In 2013 and 2015, Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to raise the “caps” on spending above the sequestration level, paid for by offsetting cuts elsewhere. But those higher caps expired, setting the stage for a spending showdown in February 2018.

That month, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers passed a bill that technically did not end the sequester, but they raised the budget caps for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 by such a large amount that a sequester was unlikely to occur.

Lawmakers took the same approach when they passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which was signed by Trump in August 2019. This bill raised the budget caps set by the previous spending bill, this time covering spending in fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

The law increased the defense cap for fiscal year 2020 by about $90 billion above the previous cap of $576 billion, and it raised the cap for fiscal year 2021 by about $81 billion above the previous cap of $590 billion.

Importantly, the sequestration regimen lapses after fiscal year 2021. So passage of the 2019 bill meant sequestration is “effectively over,” said Steve Ellis, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

“The issue is effectively off the table now for good, unless Congress comes back and decides to extend the caps,” said Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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Trump, in concert with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, accomplished his goal of rendering the sequester moot. So we rate this a Promise Kept.

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