National Security

Carney: Admin Sequester Warnings Didn’t Mislead

Q Speaking about the budget, can you give us an update on the sequester? Because yesterday the Customs and Border Protection Agency said that they're actually postponing furloughs and overtime cuts for Border Patrol agents. I thought, in February, when Secretary Napolitano came out here with you, she told us it was dire, these Border Patrol agents were going to be furloughed, and that we were going to be less safe because of that.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think both are true. What is a fact is that when you're dealing with these kinds of across-the-board, forced budget cuts in the middle of a fiscal year and you're having to make all sorts of adjustments to account for them and to reduce your expenditures accordingly, it’s a moving picture. And that can be on the plus side, where furloughs may take place a little later, or on the minus side, where things may be more immediate. I mean, that's just a fact. That's true at every agency.

But feel free to convey to your readers and viewers that the sequester doesn’t matter. And then —

Q Okay, well, first of all, let me just stop you, because I didn't say it didn't matter.

MR. CARNEY: — and explain — nobody said it wasn’t dire.

Q I said that the Secretary came in here and said that we were going to be less safe, that people were going to be crossing the border because there are less Border Patrol agents. And then they announced yesterday, actually, we're not doing that. So I'm not saying it's not important. I'm saying, did she mislead the public?

MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. And I'm saying that this is — I mean, you're editorializing enormously in that, but the —

Q How so? February — I'll give you — February 25th she said, "If you have 5,000 fewer Border Patrol hours or agents, you have 5,000 fewer Border Patrol agents. That has a real impact." Those are her words. That's not politicizing.

MR. CARNEY: Right. And how is that not the case?

Q They announced yesterday they're not doing that.

MR. CARNEY: Well, but there are reductions. And whether it's those Border Patrol —

Q Well, what are they?

MR. CARNEY: Go ahead and report that, Ed. We've made clear, look —

Q Okay, she said 5,000. They said yesterday, we're not doing that.

MR. CARNEY: Talk to those who have been laid off at defense industries. Talk to those who have been furloughed in the —

Q Let’s talk about Border Patrol first.

MR. CARNEY: Look, you can obviously go to DHS and —

Q Well, that's what she said. She said we're going to be less safe.

MR. CARNEY: Right. And the impacts of the sequester will not all be immediate. If you can predict to me when the sequester will end — if it will end — when Republicans will make the fateful decision to fund Border Patrol agents or fund our national security interests or fund Head Start at appropriate levels rather than continue to extend tax breaks to the wealthy and well-connected, tell me when that happens, and then we can assess what damage was done after the fact.

There is no question that when you have these kinds of across-the-board budget cuts, as many Republicans warned — and as many Republicans when they go home to their districts, as we speak, are complaining about — when they affect their districts, the impacts are real and they affect real people. And I know that there hasn't been a lot of coverage of the impacts on real people, on the families who had to be engaged in lotteries to see whether their child, on a Friday, was still going to be in Head Start on Monday. Tell them it doesn't matter. Tell them that the impacts aren't real.

And I take your point. Look, this is a moving picture. Budgets are big things. Outflows and inflows, that's why there are constant adjustments being made at each agency as they deal with their budget in terms of what the impacts of sequester are. But they are real. And they are progressive in the sense that they don't all happen at once. And when we make predictions about what will happen in the future, it's going to change based on how the budget picture looks a month later. But they're real.

Q But the last thing on this. When you said "moving picture," the other thing the administration kept saying in February was that there was no flexibility for these Cabinet Secretaries. Republicans were saying they can move money around. You said, Secretary Duncan said, others said you can't do that; there is no flexibility. Now you're saying it's a moving picture, so the Border Patrol agents won't be laid off today but maybe — I thought there was no flexibility. I thought it was indiscriminate, it was across the board —

MR. CARNEY: The law is written the way it's written, designed specifically not to allow the kinds of choices that the Budget Control Act and the sequester part of it were written to force Congress to make — to be arbitrary and indiscriminate. And that remains a fact.

What is also true is as time progresses and savings are made by eliminating a contract, for example, or ending new purchases of equipment for a period of time, or other things that can be done, changes about the prognosis for furloughs can be made. But that is not — any more than it was uniform a month ago, it's not uniform now. And this will fluctuate as time goes on. It will fluctuate next month, and if the sequester continues, it will fluctuate on and on and on after that as the agencies adjust to that budget picture.