According to Mr. Obama and his budget office, the sequester cuts are indiscriminate and spell out specific percentages that will be subtracted from federal “projects, programs and activities,” or PPAs. Except for the exemptions in the 2011 budget deal, the White House says it must now cut across the board regardless of how important a given PPA is. Food inspectors, say, will be treated the same as subsidies for millionaire farmers.
Not so fast. Programs, projects and activities are a technical category of the federal budget, but the sequester actually occurs at the roughly 1,200 broader units known as budget accounts. Some accounts are small, but others contain hundreds of PPAs and the larger accounts run to billions of dollars. For the Pentagon in particular, the distinction between PPAs and accounts is huge. This means in most cases the President has the room to protect his “investments” while managing the fiscal transition over time. ….
Lacking legislation, the White House assigns these amorphous units in its annual budget. Even if the lawyers insisted the sequester must apply to “PPAs” per se, the budgeteers could formally construe PPAs in ways that preserve a work-around.
This White House has never been fussy when a statutory text or even the Constitution interferes with its political ambitions. (See ObamaCare, immigration executive orders, recess appointments and much else.) Could it be that Mr. Obama is exaggerating the legal stringency of the sequester in a gambit to force Congress to shut it off?