US: Budget row could impact Mideast aid

Steep spending reductions could jeopardize US military operations abroad, US president, secretary of state warn.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPOND
February 20, 2013 02:31
2 minute read.
Mine warfare ship USS Defender [illustrative]

Mine warfare ship USS Defender 370. (photo credit: US Navy / Ryan C. McGinley)

 
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WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama warned Tuesday that steep spending reductions could jeopardize America’s military involvement abroad, adding pressure on Republicans to make a deal to avoid automatic cuts set to take effect on March 1.

“Already, the threat of these cuts has forced the navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf,” Obama said during public remarks attended by first-responders whose positions would be affected by the automatic cuts, known as budget sequestration.

“Changes like this affect our ability to respond to threats in unstable parts of the world,” Obama said. He also listed dangers to American domestic programs and the economy.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also warned about the possible effects of sequestration on the Middle East in a letter he wrote to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, last week.

“Cuts of this magnitude would seriously impair our ability to execute our vital missions of national security, diplomacy and development,” he said, mentioning possible cuts in aid to Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

Without a deal, close to $1 trillion in across-the-board cuts – half to be shouldered by the Pentagon – are slated to go into effect under laws signed by Congress. Since the two parties haven’t been able to agree on how to reduce the staggering deficit, these cuts were designed to be so appalling that their prospect would cause both sides to make tough decisions.

But no agreement has been reached, with less than two weeks left before the sequestration deadline.


Congress could agree, though, to stop-gap measures before and after March 1, to blunt the impact. Some analysts see the threat of the cuts as overblown, since Democratic leaders are hoping warnings such as these will put more pressure on the GOP to make concessions. Republican leaders, however, said events such as the one the president staged Tuesday wouldn’t bring progress.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called the display a “campaign-style” event rather than one of substance.

And Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said that it was Obama who was refusing to make compromises.

“Just last month, the president got his higher taxes on the wealthy, and he’s already back for more,” Boehner said in a statement.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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