POLITICS

Intelligence boss begs Congress to grant sequester flexibility that Obama rejected

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke

National Intelligence Director James Clapper warned that the sequester cuts as written “jeopardizes” national security, but — in direct contrast with President Obama — promised to implement the spending cuts more prudently if Congress will allow it.

“Sequestration forces our intelligence community to reduce all intelligence activities and functions without regard to the impact on our mission,” Clapper — who said he would have to “let go” of 5,000 contractors — told the Senate Intelligence Committee today. “Congress directed that the National Intelligence Program use an even more set of rules to carry out these cuts than that imposed on the Defense Department . . . [which] compounds the damage because it restricts our ability to manage where to take reductions in a balanced and rational way.”

Senate Republicans attempted to give President Obama the flexibility to implement the sequester cuts according to his best judgement, but he rejected the idea.

“Now, lately, some people have been saying, well, maybe we’ll just give the President some flexibility,” Obama said during a speech in Virginia before the sequester deadline passed. “He could make the cuts the way he wants and that way it won’t be as damaging.  The problem is when you’re cutting $85 billion in seven months, which represents over a 10-percent cut in the defense budget in seven months, there’s no smart way to do that.  There’s no smart way to do that.  You don’t want to have to choose between, let’s see, do I close funding for the disabled kid, or the poor kid?  Do I close this Navy shipyard or some other one?  When you’re doing things in a way that’s not smart, you can’t gloss over the pain and the impact it’s going to have on the economy.”

When Republicans introduced a flexibility bill, Obama threatened to veto it. Clapper, though, thanked Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., her “leadership” and her “care for the mission of the intelligence community in introducing a bill that would give us that flexibility.”

In the meantime, Clapper is taking a more hands-on approach than Obama.”We are not arguing against taking our share of the budget reductions; what I am saying is we must manage this budget crisis and continue our vital missions and in so doing will minimize the impact on the nation and on our employees,” he said. “Therefore, I plan to submit a reprogramming action to mitigate some of the most egregious cuts to help us cut in a more rational and mission-focused manner.”

By proposing such an alternative plan, Clapper is effectively doing something that House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has asked every member of Obama’s cabinet to do.

“We sent out on Feb. 28 a letter to every Cabinet officer asking them what changes they’d like to have — pluses, subtractions and so on — to give them an opportunity to show us at least one program they would like to have cut, which would then save on sequestration,” Issa told The Washington Examiner’s Byron York last week. “We did not receive a single answer.”

Clapper also seemed to hint that Obama’s focus on airport lines (Transportation Secretary Secretary Ray LaHood warned about 90-minute delays during a press briefing) was misdirected.

“Unlike more directly observable sequestration impacts, like shorter hours at public parks or longer security lines at airports, the degradation to intelligence will be insidious,” he said. “It will be gradual and almost invisible — unless and until, of course, we have an intelligence failure.”

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