Jim Capretta and I have written a piece for NRO arguing that presidents have a lot more discretion in administering a sequester's cuts than the White House is letting on. We are, of course, in somewhat uncharted waters with the sequester, but Jim and I show that the Office of Management and Budget – where Jim used to work – could have told agencies back in July to prepare for cuts ahead. Instead, OMB sent a memorandum at that time to the agencies instructing them to proceed with “normal spending and operations.”
Even now, while the law states that cuts are to be applied uniformly to all “programs, projects and activities within a budget account,” what constitutes a “budget account” – not to mention “programs, projects, and activities” -- leaves far more to administrative interpretation and discretion than the president’s dire warnings would suggest. We doubt that President Obama or his team will listen to us, as they seem determined to try to make the forthcoming sequester as painful as possible. At the same time, we believe that--in the hands of a president committed to responsible deficit reduction--the sequester could serve as a useful, albeit blunt, tool.