Policy

GOP Hawks Want Budget Conferees to Ditch Defense Cuts

Armed Services Chairman McKeon has been pushing to avert defense sequestration. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have a simple message for conferees starting to hash out a budget deal next week: Do something about automatic defense spending cuts.

As the House and Senate prepare for their first budget conference in four years, 30 of the 34 Republicans on the Armed Services panel wrote a letter decrying the effects of sequestration, saying, "The concern of a hollowing of the force is very real; indeed, the readiness of our forces has already eroded."

"Continued sequestration would lead to the reduction of an additional 100,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen from our Armed Forces, and cancellation of important programs providing key technologies and capabilities that allow our military to stay ahead of the threat," the letter said.

Conspicuously missing from the Republican signatories are four lawmakers: Mike Coffman of Colorado, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Rich Nugent of Florida.

Requests for comment from those four Republicans were not immediately returned, but Claude Chafin, the communications director for the House Armed Services Committee, told CQ Roll Call he didn't believe there was a "common objection."

While the four Republicans may have differing reasons for not signing, the 30 Republicans who did sign the letter sent a strong message to House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash.

As the letter notes, the House Armed Services Committee has held more hearings on sequestration than any other committee in Congress, and Republicans on that panel are some of the most ardent critics of the automatic spending cuts, which were established under the Budget Control Act in 2011.

While Congress once almost universally decried sequestration, many Republicans seem to prefer the automatic cuts to crafting a deal with Democrats that might raise tax revenues. The defense authorizers, however, still remember the days when sequestration was anathema to Congress. And their letter Thursday revives that line of rhetoric.

"The most significant threat to our national defense may be the continued reduction to defense funding without accounting for the impacts of our National Security Strategy," the letter said.

So the Republicans suggest cutting entitlements.

"The root of the spending problem is unrestrained mandatory outlays," the letter said.

The lawmakers are urging Ryan and Murray to replace the remaining cuts due under sequestration with entitlement cuts. "Sequestration of discretionary accounts was never intended to be policy," the letter said.

The lawmakers are part of a growing chorus in the GOP that says sequestration is unworkable. It seems the automatic spending cuts may finally be falling out of favor. And if there were ever a chance for Republicans to replace the remaining roughly $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade, half of which come from defense, the upcoming budget conference is the best chance.