GUAM – Congress’s deficit super committee produced two competing plans on Wednesday that reveal Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on the question of how to shave the nation’s alarming deficit, exacerbating worry that Congress will miss its deadline to prevent devastating across-the-board cuts in U.S. defense and social programs.
Deficit cuts would take effect in 2013, but uncertainty over their magnitude has clouded the outlook for Guam’s multi-billion-dollar military buildup and the realignment of forces to the island from Okinawa.
The super committee now has less than a month remaining to resolve the disparity between the competing partisan proposals before its Nov. 23 deadline for submitting a deficit plan to Congress. Failure to do so would trigger across-the-board sequestration, which would mean defense spending cuts of another $500 billion to $600 billion over the next 10 years, in addition to the $350 billion in defense savings already mandated by the August debt ceiling law.
Sequestration, the Pentagon has said, would lead to a hollowing out of military forces.
The Republican plan calls for a $2.2 trillion reduction of the deficit while Democrats estimate $3 trillion. Both parties would cut entitlement spending such as healthcare programs, farm subsidies and federal retirement plans, but the Republican cuts to entitlements would be significantly more aggressive.
Democrats want to cut discretionary spending or appropriations by $125 billion more than Republicans. Of the $400 billion in appropriations cuts recommended by Democrats, half would be taken from defense spending.
The biggest disparity between the plans reflects the debate over whether some of the deficit gap should be closed by raising tax revenue. Republicans have long rejected tax increases while Democrats argue that sufficient deficit reduction can only be done through a combination of spending cuts and higher taxes. The Democrat plan calls for raising $1.3 billion in new taxes.
Indecision over how much government-wide deficit slashing will cost the Pentagon has caused concern among allies that the U.S. will have to reduce its defense forces in Asia-Pacific at a time of growing volatility in the region. Sensing their worry over the impact of deficit cutting in Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta repeatedly vowed to maintain a robust forward presence in the region during meetings with Asian leaders last week.
In Japan, he reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to troop realignment and the Guam buildup and urged Tokyo that now was the time to produce tangible progress on their end of the realignment deal, which calls for a controversial new air base on Okinawa’s remote eastern coast.
Assuming the super committee produces a bipartisan compromise by the November deadline, Congress will have until Christmas to approve the plan or otherwise trigger sequestration.
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