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Defense Cuts Will Likely Stay in Place if Super Committee Fails

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sens. John McCain (left) and Lindsey Graham have requested a detailed report from the Pentagon about the potential effects of large defense cuts on the U.S. military.

Despite the rise in calls to reverse deep defense cuts that will be triggered if the super committee fails to reach a deficit-cutting agreement, the actual chance of rolling them back is slim, according to a wide range of sources across the Capitol.

Nearly $500 billion in defense cuts will kick in starting in 2013 if the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction does not produce at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions by Nov. 23, and many Members have argued they would be a tough pill to swallow for American military forces. And Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned of sequestration's consequences in back-to-back classified briefings with Senators and Representatives last week, and Army Chief of Staff Ray Ordierno, who testified before the House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday, did the same.

Concerned GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) sent a letter to the Pentagon on Thursday night requesting a detailed report of the impacts the cuts might have on national security, and they are working on fallback legislation to repeal and perhaps replace the defense cuts.

But all the commotion surrounding the painful cuts which were designed as an incentive to force the super committee to act likely will not produce a change to the policy that was enacted as part of a broader deal to increase the debt limit in August.

Even Republican leadership sources suggested that getting another bill affecting the federal budget through the House would be difficult, especially if it adds more to the deficit by not being offset. These same sources concede there is not much left in the domestic discretionary spending pot to cut.

And Democrats almost certainly will not agree to replace the defense spending savings with cuts to mandatory programs such as Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.

Moreover, if legislation rolling back the cuts were to clear Congress, it is unlikely President Barack Obama would sign it.

Republicans have said they believe fighting to roll back the cuts would be a good message in an election year, cementing their party's place as the protectors of the military and national security. But this position now stands in contrast to the GOP's goal of deficit reduction and that's a point Democrats are prepared to hammer home if Republicans push forward with repeal.

"In the end, you can only have a military you can afford, and if the Congress makes a decision that it can't cut spending the way the [Budget] Control Act provided in the super committee, then the sequester is the fallback and the sequester should happen," Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said in a brief interview late last week.

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