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House Republican leaders hope to focus this week on defense, an issue they feel the GOP is strongly suited for, while forcing President Barack Obama to take responsibility for deep and impending cuts to the Pentagon.
Starting the week with House floor consideration of the fiscal 2013 Defense appropriations bill, Republicans hope to have a strong bipartisan vote on legislation that would fund the military at a higher level than the president or the Senate would.
Republicans also have a chance to attack the administration on the potential $500 billion defense cut mandated in the sequestration process, which was set in motion when the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to produce a legislative package.
Adding an extra layer, former Vice President Dick Cheney will meet with the House GOP whip team tonight to discuss firing up Republicans to head off the cuts. Cheney knows his way around cuts to the Defense Department. When he served as Defense secretary under President George H.W. Bush, he helped formulate massive cuts to the Pentagon budget. In Bush’s 1992 State of the Union address, the president bragged that Cheney “recommended these cuts after consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And I make them with confidence. ... The reductions I have approved will save us an additional $50 billion over the next five years. By 1997, we will have cut defense by 30 percent since I took office.”
A GOP leadership aide said, “The former vice president and Secretary of Defense obviously has valuable perspective on the devastating impact of President Obama’s defense sequester.”
The House voted earlier this year on a reconciliation package that would replace much of the sequester cuts, and aides said they want to take time this week to force the administration’s hand.
“This week is going to be about holding them accountable for their lack of action,” a second GOP leadership aide said.
The week will culminate with a likely Friday vote on a bill to force the administration to prepare a report within 30 days of the bill’s passage about the sequestration’s effect, including on defense programs.
Doing so, aides said, would put the president on the record acknowledging what critics of sequestration say would be devastating cuts.
House Democrats, however, hope to turn the conversation on its head and keep the focus squarely on the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush.
Democrats and Republicans spent last week arguing about how to extend the tax cuts, with most Republicans favoring a full extension and most Democrats, including the president, on record calling for an extension only for those making less than $250,000 annually.
If Republicans would agree to raise taxes on high-income earners, a senior Democratic aide said, both chambers could deal with sequestration and a slew of other issues that make up the “fiscal cliff.”
“That’s the obvious counter,” the aide said. “If Republicans are willing to put revenues on the table, real revenues, then we can have a grand bargain, I think within the week.”
The Senate has already voted on a version of the sequestration report bill. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) came up with a compromise version that includes a study not only into the defense cuts but also the effect on the middle class, environment, jobs, infrastructure and other issues.
The Senate measure would give the administration 60 days to prepare the report.
It’s unclear how much effort either side is willing to exert to reconcile the two.
The Senate version was tacked to the Senate farm bill, and in the absence of willingness among House Republican leaders to put a farm bill on the floor before November, it seems unlikely that will be the vehicle for the sequestration bill.
GOP aides said Monday that House leadership’s position on the farm bill had not changed since last week. The measure will almost certainly not come to the floor before the August recess, and even afterward, chances are slim.
But members of the Agriculture Committee are still making the push. Rep. Kristi Noem, a freshman member of Republican leadership, told Roll Call last week that she is encouraging leadership to bring the bill to the floor, despite that fact that it could not likely pass with a simple Republican majority.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) “know I’m not happy at the thought that we won’t get our work done,” the South Dakota lawmaker said. “I understand that they wonder if we can get it passed on the House floor. It’s going to be a tough vote and we can’t do it without Democratic support.”