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Dick Cheney Heads to the Hill to Defend Defense Spending

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Former Vice President Dick Cheney took to Capitol Hill today to warn of the dangers of allowing sequestration cuts to defense to take effect.

In particular, Cheney relayed to leaders that the decisions they make about defense budgeting do not simply affect the next few years but also what a president 10 of 15 years from now will have at his disposal in case of a war, according to a source in some of the meetings.

The former vice president, just months removed from a heart transplant, walked with a slow gait, but on the whole he looked healthy and able-bodied.

He mostly dodged reporters and rarely answered their questions, but in one instance, when asked what effect he thought he could have on the sequestration process, he replied simply, “Just visiting my friends.”

Cheney met with Republican Senators before holding four separate meetings on the House side: with House leadership, with committee chairmen, with the whip team and with the House Republican Conference as a whole.

“When it comes times to reduce force structure,” Cheney told the conference, according to a source in the room, “budget-driven” is not how national security decisions should be made.

He added that there is no strategic justification to defend the slated $500 billion cuts mandated by the sequestration process and that “the world works when the United States is providing leadership politically, militarily and economically,” according to the source.

Cheney served as secretary of Defense under President George H.W. Bush, and earlier in the evening, he told Members that during that time he reduced military force dramatically, scaling back troops and defense spending from Cold War levels.

But Cheney told Members that those decisions, such as two rounds of base closures, were strategic. Because the Pentagon already plans to cut about $450 billion over 10 years, an additional $500 billion cut would be crazy, he added.

Cheney told Members that he faced a few major events when he was secretary of Defense, including Operation Desert Storm, and he noted that leaders are often surprised by crises in that position.

Nonetheless, he said that after the war ended, the first call he made was to President Ronald Reagan, whom he thanked for the defense decisions he made during his presidency.

He also gave an overview of some national security threats to America, such as the Middle East and North Korea.

Cheney, a former Congressman from Wyoming, served as House Minority Whip for two months before the elder Bush tapped him for his Cabinet. As a gift, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) gave Cheney a framed whip card with the names of the Members he would have had to whip had he stayed in that post.

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