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A Promise to Undo Cuts to Defense

GOP Senators Want to Avoid Sequestration

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Sens. John McCain and Kelly Ayotte prepare to speak at a news conference Wednesday to decry automatic spending cuts that they say will hurt the military.

Four Senate Republicans concerned about a mandatory $600 billion reduction in defense spending beginning in 2013 said they plan to launch an effort next year that would identify alternative spending cuts in the federal budget.

The proposed defense cuts “would be impossible to achieve without harming our national security in ways that would simply be unacceptable,” Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) said Wednesday at a news conference.

The $600 billion is part of $1.2 trillion in cuts set to take place over 10 years starting in January 2013 as a result of the failure of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, which was established as part of the deal struck in August to raise the debt ceiling.

The panel was charged with devising and approving a plan by the end of last month to cut at least $1.2 trillion so that Congress could vote on the package. But the super committee’s failure to approve a plan triggered the sequestration process, which will result in automatic, across-the-board cuts divided evenly between security and nonsecurity spending.

Kyl, who was a member of the super committee, said the four Republicans expect to introduce legislation early next year that would begin to identify where in the budget to cut in order to avoid the entire $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts.

“We are going to be introducing the legislation, probably after the break, that will give us a road map toward avoiding the across-the-board sequester but still achieving the necessary spending reductions,” Kyl said.

House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who also objects to the proposed defense spending cuts, has a news conference scheduled for Thursday during which he is expected to tout similar legislation.

A skeptical Senate Democratic leadership aide said his party would look at any deficit reduction bill but stressed that it would need to be a balanced plan that includes new revenues — the major sticking point that led to the impasse in the super committee.

“The super committee proved that is a very difficult task” to come up with a balanced plan, the leadership aide said.

Nevertheless, Kyl said he expects Senate Democrats to join with Republicans to help protect the military but also to more selectively make cuts in discretionary spending.

“There are other discretionary spending that would also be hit hard across the board as opposed to doing it the easier way, which is a sensible way that would actually reduce spending by enough to avoid the sequester,” Kyl said.

Kyl was joined at his press conference by Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain (Ariz.) and Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.). But they did not offer many details and instead sought to lay down a marker that they will pursue this in the coming year.

The Senators said they would look to attach their proposed cuts to other legislative vehicles, a signal that they intend a long-running effort. 

“It will probably be introduced as a [stand-alone] bill, but it may be that it actually passes as an amendment to something or as part of another bill that is going to be passing,” Kyl said. “We just want this to get done however it can get done. ... We just want to avoid the sequester.” 

Kyl added that the Senators will be collecting proposed cuts from items agreed to in the super committee, the deficit reduction group led by Vice President Joseph Biden, as well as a proposal put forth by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.).

“Spectrum auction, land sales, [increased] fees to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, things of that sort,” Kyl said.

Graham said he was opposed to the sequester idea from its inception because it doesn’t make sense to punish the military if Congress does not do its job.

“For a Congress that is known for really ill-conceived ideas, this one takes the cake,” Graham said.

“The idea that if you fail to do the most minimum task, [then] let’s gut the military,” Graham continued. “Who thought that would be a good idea?”

Graham said he believes if the sequester takes effect it could result in layoffs of soldiers who have fought for the nation.

“It offends the hell out of me that we would even consider that. These men and women have gone out of their way to protect us,” he said. “If you are going to fire anyone, fire us and keep the soldiers. They are doing a better job for our country.”

McCain pointed out that the cuts would come on top of the $450 billion in cuts over 10 years mandated by the deal to raise the debt ceiling. But he added that defense spending would not be held
sacrosanct.

“We will include efficiencies to be made in defense spending in our proposal but not anywhere near the magnitude of those that would be required by this idiotic process that we just completed,” McCain said.

McCain and Kyl voted for the debt deal in August that established the super committee and the sequester, while Ayotte and Graham opposed it.

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