August 7th, 2012
05:36 PM ET
(CNN) – As far as bill signings at the White House go, President Obama on Tuesday signed the Sequestration Transparency Act to little fanfare.
But the legislation, which passed the Senate by unanimous consent and the House by a 414-2 margin last month, could prove to be a major headache for the president come late November, whether or not he is reelected.
That’s because the relatively obscure bill, initially backed by Republicans, forces the Obama administration to specifically spell out the full effect of the required $1.2 trillion cuts to domestic and defense programs if Congress doesn’t agree to a deficit-reduction plan of their own by January 2, 2013.
Should Congress fail to reach an agreement ahead of the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the Budget Control Act of 2011 mandates across-the-board cuts, or “sequestration.” While the specter of sequestration has been looming for months, the extent to which certain programs will be affected remains fairly vague.
Now, thanks to this legislation, the president himself will be put in the politically tenuous position of spelling out exactly what will be eliminated to satisfy the $1.2 trillion requirement. And, according to the Act, he must do so within 30 days - meaning a report to Congress will come due Labor Day weekend, just as the Democratic National Convention gets underway.
Republicans have said the bill is necessary because the president has failed to communicate the effects of sequestration to either the American people or the relevant agencies implicated by the potentially massive cuts.
“It is time for President Obama to level with taxpayers about the full impact of the scheduled cuts to our national defense, and join with Congress in finding alternative savings that do not jeopardize our national security,” Republican Sen. John Thune, one of the bill’s sponsors, said last month.
But during a congressional committee hearing last month, Obama’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jeffrey Zients, suggested the bill is unnecessary.
“Should it get to a point where it appears that Congress will not do its job and the sequester may take effect, let me assure you that OMB, DoD, and the entire Administration will be prepared,” he said.
While the bill was backed entirely by Republicans, its nearly-unanimous passage all but required the president to sign it. Moreover, Sen. Patty Murray, a Democratic member of the special congressional committee assigned to find a deficit reduction compromise last summer that failed to agree to specific spending cuts then, praised the measure for ensuring that “every member of Congress and the public understands the impact of sequestration, as well as the need to replace both the defense and non defense cuts in a balanced and bipartisan way."
The White House, on the other hand, is saying little about the newly-signed measure, except for a tweet from spokeswoman Amy Brundage.
“POTUS just signed the Sequestration Transparency Act. Congress must act to avoid these devastating cuts & ask wealthiest to pay fair share,” she said in the tweet.