By Jeremy Herb
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that the threat of $500 billion in automatic cuts to defense spending will force Republicans to drop their opposition to including tax hikes to finance deficit reduction.
Levin said Thursday that a deficit deal to undo the defense cuts, which are set to take effect in January 2013, must include higher taxes, and the cuts will force “Republicans who have taken an ideologically rigid step against any new revenues to relent.”
He said that the cuts to defense and domestic discretionary spending mandated by last summer's debt-ceiling deal, known as the sequester, must be kept together to have that effect, and voiced opposition to recent efforts by Republicans to undo the process for a year.
“The purpose of the sequester is to force us to act, to avoid it,” Levin told reporters at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor on Thursday. “It will only succeed if it’s kept in tact. It cannot be splintered.”
The cuts through sequestration are set to hit both defense and domestic spending in January 2013 as a result of the supercommittee’s failure last year.
But defense hawks have been loudest in their opposition, warning that sequestration would have a devastating effect on the U.S. military. They argue that the military is already taking $487 billion in cuts over the next decade, and it cannot handle an additional $500 billion.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) introduced a bill last month to undo the first year of cuts by reducing the federal workforce by 10 percent over the next decade. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said he and a group of Republicans will soon be introducing their own legislation to push back the sequester.
Levin said he would not support those efforts, even though he also does not want to see the sequestration cuts actually take effect.
Levin, who attended a Pentagon dinner meeting with the other committee heads and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Wednesday to learn details of the 2013 budget, said that top officials in the services support the new budget, the first to reflect the $487 billion in cuts. What they fear, he said, is sequestration, because “then you have a totally different ballgame.”
In Congress, most people don’t expect there to be much movement on sequestration until after the November 2012 election in a lame-duck session.