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When Dick Cheney talks, people listen.
The former vice president went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to fire up Congressional Republicans to fight mandatory cuts to the Defense Department budget. Across the Dome, both sides of the aisle were waiting for him, whether it be with reverence, snark or practiced indifference.
Cheney spoke first to Senate Republicans at their weekly policy lunch, with most of them saying the former Defense secretary was welcome anytime and is an obvious expert on the effects of cuts to the Pentagon budget.
“He was probably one of the more successful secretaries of Defense in the history of this country,” Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) said as he entered the meeting. “Everyone acknowledges the great job he did when he was secretary of Defense, so I think he is clearly qualified to discuss the issue.”
As Defense secretary, Cheney formulated plans to cut defense spending by 30 percent in the 1990s.
Sen. Lindsey Graham is pushing for a plan to replace one year of the 10-year sequester to give Congress time to “do the big deal,” a bipartisan plan to cut the deficit that includes revenue and spending cuts.
“I am glad he’s here and I hope he will help make the case that I am trying to make: that sequestration is really an ill-conceived idea,” the South Carolina Republican said.
“He is obviously someone who has been a great public servant for a long period of time. He’s worn a lot of hats, he’s served in a lot of different capacities, he’s very knowledgeable, and we always welcome his participation,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said.
Democratic leaders brought out some familiar criticism of Cheney, namely that he was always on the lookout for the best interests of his former employer, Halliburton, a big defense contractor.
“Halliburton did extremely well during his time as vice president, and I assume there has got to be some concern about Halliburton again,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
The Nevada Democrat said the cuts under the sequester could be avoided with other cuts within the budget and tax increases on the top earners. The sequester, which requires cuts of $1.2 trillion roughly split between domestic and defense spending, was triggered by the failure of last year’s super committee to craft such a deal.
Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who leads the party’s messaging machine in that chamber, shrugged off Cheney’s appearance. “It’s a free country,” Schumer said.