Lawmakers Aim To Stop Pentagon Cuts If Deficit Panel Fails

As pessimism mounted this week over the ability of a bipartisan Congressional committee to agree on a deficit-reduction plan, lawmakers began taking steps to head off the large cuts in Pentagon spending that would automatically result from the panel’s failure.

Members of both parties and both chambers said they increasingly feared that the 12-member committee would be unable to bridge deep partisan divisions and find $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction as required under the law that raised the debt ceiling and created the committee in the summer.

As talks sputtered, one panel member publicly lamented that the process was not working, and the group was chastised by a bipartisan group of budget experts at a public hearing for failing to show progress. Several members of Congress, especially Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, are readying legislation that would undo the automatic across-the-board cuts totaling nearly $500 billion for military programs, or exchange them for cuts in other areas of the federal budget.

'Sequester will never take place'
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has drafted a bill that would replace the military reductions that would occur under a process known in Congress as sequestration with 5 percent cuts to other, unspecified parts of the federal budget, and a 10 percent decrease in pay for members of Congress. In the House, similar measures are being assembled.

"If the joint select committee does not do what it needs to do," said Representative K. Michael Conaway, a Texas Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, "most of us will move heaven and earth to find an alternative that prevents a sequester from happening."

After listening to dire predictions by the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the effects of automatic cuts, Representative John Garamendi, Democrat of California, was even more blunt. "The sequester will never take place," he said. "It’s not going to happen."

Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a member of the deficit-reduction panel, has repeatedly said he has no intention of letting such cuts occur. Some House members said they were being urged by military contractors and others in their districts to avert such reductions.

Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the panel, said the attempt to undo the triggers "reflects a total lack of seriousness." Adding that such efforts would not be successful, he said they were "the result of people trying to escape the fundamental choices before us, and one of those choices is whether or not we are willing to end special interest tax breaks to pay for defense." The White House is also highly unlikely to approve such actions. The president is averse to the military cuts, but saw the threat of them as a way to pressure Republicans to reach a deal. "There is more fear this time," Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, said about the anxiety being expressed by military contractors in his district. Mr. Brooks said he voted against the debt-ceiling legislation because of the possibility of deep Pentagon cuts.

Deadline for agreement looms
Under the debt-ceiling budget agreement, members of the joint committee, evenly divided between the parties, have until Nov. 23 to recommend ways to reduce budget deficits by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Both houses are supposed to vote on the package by Dec. 23. If no legislation is enacted, the government would automatically cut almost $500 billion from military spending, with an equal amount from nonmilitary programs, between 2013 and 2021.

The inability of the committee to reach an agreement would be a major embarrassment not only for its members, but for the Congress, which already has record low approval ratings. Efforts to undo the automatic cuts could also lead to a further downgrade of federal debt, as rating agencies have been counting on the savings as evidence of Washington’s commitment to easing the deficit.

Republican leaders have so far pushed the panel to come to an agreement that would make talk of undoing the cuts unnecessary.

The House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, said he wanted the joint committee to succeed, but would not tamper with the mechanism for automatic cuts. "I would feel bound by it," he said. "It was part of the agreement. The sequester is ugly. Why? Because we don’t want anybody to go there."

Some Democrats are increasingly concerned that some Republicans on the committee, in declaring that they will not be able to accept new revenues toward deficit reduction, are calculating that they will be able to reverse the triggered cuts.

"Republicans should not count on taking the easy way out if they continue to resist a balanced deficit deal that includes revenue increases," warned Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the chamber’s No. 3 Democrat.

Republicans alarmed
Republicans have expressed more alarm about possible across-the-board cuts in Pentagon spending than Democrats have voiced about cuts in domestic programs that would also occur. Many safety-net programs for low-income people, like Medicaid and food stamps, would be exempt from automatic cuts. And Medicare payments to health care providers could not be reduced by more than 2 percent.

In recent weeks, Republicans have convened hearings at which Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and other Pentagon officials have denounced the possibility of large cuts to the military budget. At a classified briefing last week, Mr. Panetta said such cuts would be "devastating," lawmakers who attended said. Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, the chief of naval operations, told the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Howard P. McKeon, Republican of California: "Sequestration will cause irreversible damage. It will hollow the military."

At a recent meeting of the deficit reduction panel, Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan, sought assurances that nothing would prevent Congress from changing the mechanism for automatic cuts in military spending. Douglas W. Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, replied, "Any Congress can reverse the actions of a previous Congress."

The special panel has been hamstrung by the same partisan divisions that have hampered negotiations on spending for the last 10 months. Democrats on the committee offered a plan to slash $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion through cuts in the growth of federal entitlement programs, including Medicare, and more than $1 trillion in new tax revenues, but it was rejected by Republicans who are dead set against new taxes.

The perception of gridlock surrounding the panel has contributed to a sense of gloom on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have begun to prepare for the worst.

"I almost did not vote for the debt deal because of the sequestration that so disproportionately targets the Department of Defense," said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine. "I think it is a huge problem."

Some Democrats had expected the threat of automatic cuts in military spending to be the leverage to force Republicans to consider tax increases. Republicans said Democrats should not count on that. "If Democratic members of the committee think that Republicans just cannot resist calls or demands for a big tax increase because of the sense of unacceptable cuts, I think they would be wrong in that," said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama.


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  • by taxman Location: wilson on Nov 5, 2011 at 09:54 AM
    We have the war(s) now we gotta pay the bills. There is no free lunch whether it means money for war or money for public assistance and medical care. Now you see the results of GW Bush and his crony capitalist friends having kept the costs of the wars off of the books and reducing taxes. We all gotta pay ! You can thank your Republican politicians, your kids and their kids can thank the GW Bush-Cheney clique. Want more debt for your kids ? Elect some more Republicans to political office.
    • reply
      by 250 on Nov 5, 2011 at 01:16 PM in reply to taxman
      Hey uh taxman. How bout you and your 12 pack friends starts a "grass roots movement". Rally and write your local representaives to start demanding and recouping the numbers that generally follow the dollar signs of all these scam artists. Medicare. Ponzi. Identity Thefts. Hedge funds and I'll quit with those.
    • reply
      by oh well on Nov 5, 2011 at 01:26 PM in reply to taxman
      the "it's bushes fault" battle cry is so old, please come up with something new. It's because the dimocrats all want to raise taxes and spend spend spend.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Nov 5, 2011 at 01:29 PM in reply to taxman
      oh taxman, please don't forget that obuma started 2 wars in his time in office, so quit the blame bush bull.
      • reply
        by Taxman too on Nov 5, 2011 at 02:12 PM in reply to
        He ended them, too, for the record...
    • reply
      by Obama Snake Oil co on Nov 5, 2011 at 03:11 PM in reply to taxman
      Did you know its cheaper to buy koolaid by the case at sams? You may need to know that since it sounds like you really soupping it up. Geez, lay off the surgar Laaxman...it really shows. Oh, one more thing...can you give us one fact to support that Bush has the empowerment to start wars? Just one will do or go away...I really don't like kids playing adults, if you don't know how the government works, don't act the part, play a part or post a lie, it just makes you look like a sheepish idiot. Thought you would like to know that.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Nov 5, 2011 at 03:48 PM in reply to taxman
      Very well said!!!
  • by 44mag. on Nov 5, 2011 at 09:28 AM
    "FREEDOM" What does it mean to you?...For me I'II kill for it!...Online theres a web site(FEMA CAMPS)nows the time to(Load your guns and fight to stay free)!!!Satans children are running this country!!!
  • by Anonymous on Nov 5, 2011 at 05:32 AM
    Why did the Republicans agree to cuts in the defense budget without getting cuts in return in Medicaid and food stamps? Sounds to me like they got the worst end of the deal, but an agreement is an agreement and they should not be able to back out of it. Man up, boys and be the "SuperCommittee" that you are supposed to be. Reach some freaking agreements!
    • reply
      by HEE HAW! on Nov 5, 2011 at 06:38 AM in reply to
      A hard headed donkey cant agree with anything.
    • reply
      by To anonymous on Nov 5, 2011 at 04:25 PM in reply to
      No! No! They got 99%-remember?
  • by Barlow Location: Winterville on Nov 5, 2011 at 05:22 AM
    Uh Oh, The military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about decades ago is being threatened! Can't have that! Too many legislatures are "owned" by the big military defense contractors. Too much money to be had by producing weapons, starting wars and selling weapons to other countries. This was Obama's plan from the beginning. He KNEW Repugnants would not offer up a nickel of revenue from the rich so this provision is in to cut military spending if they cannot come to an agreement. The Republicans will now try to shift the burden to the middle class and poor as always. Once again, the president is playing chess while the Repugs play checkers. Nice move President Obama!
    • reply
      by 44mag. on Nov 5, 2011 at 09:30 AM in reply to Barlow
      Check out the "FEMA CAMPS"is there a camp near you?
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Nov 5, 2011 at 10:33 AM in reply to Barlow
      Just what burden does the poor pay? Last I checked the majority of the poor living off of welfare while refusing to get a job are the ones who are a burden to the ones who do work and pay taxes.
    • reply
      by not barlow again. on Nov 5, 2011 at 01:20 PM in reply to Barlow
      More like the presidunce is playing with himself, as the Republicians try and save the USA from the dimocrats like barlow and lavon. But fine barlow, lets play it your way and shut down the entire military, and all the industires that support it. Then all of thise people can get on the public dole too, then this country will be exactly what obuma wants, either very rich or very poor. and guess what, obuma isn't going to be poor, he will be one of the very rich.
    • reply
      by not barlow again. on Nov 5, 2011 at 02:13 PM in reply to Barlow
      More like the presidunce is playing with half a deck, as the Republicians try and save the USA from the dimocrats like barlow and lavon. But fine barlow, lets play it your way and shut down the entire military, and all the industires that support it. Then all of thise people can get on the public dole too, then this country will be exactly what obuma wants, either very rich or very poor. and guess what, obuma isn't going to be poor, he will be one of the very rich.
      • reply
        by Barlow on Nov 5, 2011 at 04:21 PM in reply to not barlow again.
        Yea, maybe we should spend billions on weapons the military can't use and doesn't want, all because some corporate stooge politician has a factory in his district and a lobbyist stuffing his pockets. WE CAN'T AFFORD THIS ANYMORE! People are going hungry in this country and we are spending billions on weapons we will never use and that are obsolete before they come off the factory floor. The biggest chicken hawks will be the ones squawking the loudest.
        • reply
          by To Barlow on Nov 5, 2011 at 09:19 PM in reply to Barlow
          We gotta have big guns. Else how is Cain going to stop China from getting nuclear weapons? LOL!
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