By Carlo Munoz - 03/29/12 03:43 PM EDT
The Pentagon faces $487 billion in cuts from last summer’s deal to raise the debt ceiling and an additional $600 billion in reductions through sequestration after the failure of the deficit supercommittee.
Lawmakers would "have to rewrite the sequester law," said Smith, to find the $1.2 trillion in federal savings the supercommittee could not find to get Defense off the budget hook.
One option Smith suggested is using the revenue from the expiring Bush-era tax cuts to pay for the deficit bill.
Letting those cuts expire at the end of this year would free up nearly $4.5 trillion in government funds, according to the Washington lawmaker, which he said would be “more than enough” to cover the $1.2 trillion in savings required by the Budget Control Act.
Republican lawmakers, though, have been reluctant to back efforts to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to lapse and some led by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) have called for rolling back all automatic defense cuts — those included in the original debt deal as well as the sequester.
McKeon might only be able to pull of that ambitious plan if Republicans hold the House in November and recapture the Senate, however.
In his speech, Smith called sequestration a "blunt instrument" that could leave the Pentagon vulnerable to a slew of national security threats after cuts were enacted. But he acknowledged that the growing deficit was reaching a “crisis” point and that "a crisis changes the equation" in terms of defense spending.
Smith warned that Congress needed a “sense of urgency” about the nation’s fiscal health, calling it "highly irresponsible" to delay tackling the sequester or overall debt reduction until after the November elections.
"We [will be] just boiling in the water" if Congress and the White House delay any further, Smith said.