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Roll Call

Turning Back Defense Cuts Now a Likely 2012 Campaign Issue

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has repeatedly blasted the super committee, and his spokesman confirmed Monday that he would move to reverse automatic defense cuts if elected.

The failure of the deficit super committee could open a new front in the 2012 presidential contest, with the Republican nominee likely to campaign on reversing steep defense cuts scheduled to occur in 2013 as a result of a penalty trigger.

The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction announced Monday that it had ceased efforts to reach a deal by Wednesday’s deadline, citing irreconcilable differences. But even before that, Republican presidential candidates had signaled that if elected next year, they would move to undo $500 billion in sequestered defense cuts set for implementation in 2013, when the GOP commander in chief would take office.

“It was a very bad idea to put our national security on the chopping block, and [I] will, if elected president, reverse those cuts,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Friday in an interview with talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, according to a transcript of the discussion.

That appears to be the opinion of most of the Republican presidential candidates within striking distance of the nomination, according to recent polling, with the exception of libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), who favors a less muscular, less active military.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the latest candidate to join Romney as a national frontrunner in the contest, has blasted the concept of the super committee since its inception, repeatedly saying that he would not honor its directives. Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond confirmed Monday that the former Speaker would move to reverse the defense cuts if elected president, suggesting as well that he would reconsider undoing or reapportioning the triggered cuts to social programs.

“As president, he would not cede the argument of how to balance the budget to a broken bureaucracy status quo,” Hammond said. “He would be smart but not cheap.”

Of course, President Barack Obama might win a second term, rendering moot the vows of Republican presidential candidates to reverse the automatic defense cuts now on tap as a result of the super committee’s failure. In fact, Obama said during a brief televised statement Monday evening from the White House briefing room that he would oppose any efforts in Congress to set aside the $1.2 trillion in triggered cuts to defense and social programs that are to be carried out.

“My message to them is simple: No,” he said, adding that he “will veto any effort” to eliminate the automatic cuts without a balanced deal with equivalent deficit reduction. “The only way these spending cuts won’t take place is if Congress gets back to work” and agrees to a balanced package, he added. “There will be no easy offramps.”

That is consistent with signals the Obama administration sent throughout the super committee negotiations and fits with what Congressional leaders have said about a process they hatched to resolve a partisan impasse to raise the debt ceiling that consumed Washington over the summer. Still, the president’s position could change in the heat of the 2012 campaign, whether under pressure from the left or the right, possibly leading to Congressional action next year.

Some Congressional Republicans have already discussed attempting to reverse the defense cuts in 2012 as the failure of the super committee became more likely. But legislative aides have indicated that doing so would be extremely difficult. “Me, personally? Yes, I would feel bound,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said. “It was part of the agreement. And so either we succeed or we’re in the sequester.”

Steven T. Dennis and Meredith Shiner contributed to this report.

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