GOP senators will offer other budget cuts to replace sequestration

Several pro-military GOP senators announced Wednesday they are preparing legislation to be introduced in January that would void $600 billion in national defense cuts by replacing them with cuts from other parts of the federal budget.

The group, led by Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain (Ariz.), is concerned the cuts would hobble the U.S. military and leave it unable to carry out some future missions.

Those $600 billion in cuts would be “impossible to achieve without harming our national security in ways that would simply be unacceptable,” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). “There are other discretionary spending that also would be hit hard across the board” with an equal $600 billion cut, he said.

To offset this “salami-slice” budget-trimming approach, the group will craft legislation that will achieve $1.2 trillion in defense and domestic cuts “an easier” and “a sensible” way, Kyl told reporters Wednesday during a press briefing.

The coming legislation will “give us a road map for avoiding the across-the-board sequester but still achieving the necessary spending reductions.”

The GOP senators’ legislation will cobble together existing federal spending reduction proposals, as well as “any other good suggestions, frankly,” Kyl said.

As envisioned, the bill will include ideas from the failed supercommittee and the group led by Vice President Biden as well as cuts floated by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and others.

The senators said the cuts they propose would identify "specific areas" and will be scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), with Kyl insisting they can reach a $1.2 trillion target without harming citizens who benefit from programs like Social Security and Medicare.

The GOP whip, citing his work on the supercommittee, insisted the group can trim “hundreds of billions of dollars” without doing so.

The group also includes Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

The GOP senators envision legislation that would wipe out $600 billion in national defense cuts by proposing an equal amount of cuts from other areas of the federal budget.

The national defense cuts are scheduled to take effect through a process called sequestration, which holds the cuts off until 2013. The sequestration was triggered by the supercommittee's collapse, as mandated by the summer's debt-ceiling deal.

McCain, Kyl and the other hawkish legislators, as well as Pentagon officials, say the $600 billion in cuts over a decade would create a “hollow force” because they would come on top of a $350 billion cut already being enacted. (The Pentagon contends that cut would equal a $450 billion reduction to planned spending.)

The GOP senators want to move as quickly as possible with the bill because the cuts would take effect in January 2013, and the Pentagon will need ample time to prepare for the $600 billion cut if attempts to head off sequestration fail.

Congress needs to act on the group’s bill — or another that would stave off the national defense cuts — “at the beginning of the year … not the end,” Kyl said, to make it “absolutely clear” to the Pentagon that it need not plan for the sequestration cuts, Kyl said.

Graham said the sequestration framework “takes the cake” among what he said have been a string of bad ideas to come from the current Congress.

The notion that Congress would “gut the military” because a group of “politicians who can’t walk across the street in single file failed to do the most basic task … offends the hell out of me!” roared Graham, an Air Force reservist.

Graham went so far as to propose slashing lawmaker pay by 20 percent to help void the national defense cuts.

With the military poised to shed uniformed and civilian personnel to cut costs, Graham suggested instead firing lawmakers because “the soldiers are doing a better job.”

“What happened to the party of Ronald Reagan?” Graham asked, saying the 40th president, a Republican, would never have supported such deep military spending cuts.

Speaking at a conference on Tuesday, Ayotte predicted that the “grave consequences” of deeper DOD cuts would allow the group to “build a bipartisan coalition” big enough to void sequestration.

Kyl said the notion that a sequester-voiding bill would gather only Republican support is a false one. He predicted an ample number of Democrats in both chambers will vote in favor of killing the $600 billion in defense cuts.

President Obama has repeatedly vowed to veto any legislation that would void either the national defense or domestic sequester cuts.

Graham passionately called on Obama to “rescind” those comments, saying a commander in chief’s first duty is to “protect us.”

Ayotte and McCain said on Tuesday that hawkish Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.) would join their sequestration-killing team. A Lieberman spokesperson told The Hill Wednesday he is not joining the effort. He told The Hill recently that he is working to achieve the same goal, but with former members of the Gang of Six.