McCain: Delaying deal on defense cuts to lame-duck session would be ‘a disaster’

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday that Republicans are “stretching out our hand” to Democrats to find a solution for stopping the $500 billion cuts to the defense budget set to take effect in January 2013.

McCain and a group of Republican senators said that a bipartisan solution is needed now to reverse the cuts from sequestration. Waiting until a lame-duck session is unacceptable, they said, because the Pentagon and defense industry already must begin preparing for the consequences.

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“We are here today stretching out our hand and saying, 'Can’t we sit down and solve this issue?' ” McCain said at the third press conference he’s held on sequestration since December.

“I have never seen a lame-duck session that ended up in anything but a disaster. For us to somehow say, ‘Ok, we’ll wait until after the November election,’ is crazy,” McCain said.

Both Republicans and Democrats do not want sequestration to go into effect, but the two sides remain unwilling to budge on taxes.

When asked if he was willing to put tax increases on the negotiating table Thursday, McCain said: “Of course we are against tax increases.”

Democrats say that Republicans must be willing to give on tax increases to find the $1.2 trillion in revenue reduction that could replace the sequester, while Republicans say that taxes cannot increase and entitlements must be on the table.

The $500 billion in cuts through sequestration were put in motion when the supercommittee failed to create a deficit-reduction plan. Most people don't expect movement on sequestration until after the election.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said that national defense should not fall victim to a "game of chicken over an ideological issue like taxes.”

“They’re willing to say that if we don’t concede the tax increases they’re willing to gut America’s national defense,” Rubio said of Democrats. “I think that’s a very dangerous proposition to take.”

But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that every deficit-reduction plan since former President Reagan has included revenues.

“Revenues have to be on the table including tax increases on upper-income folks,” Levin said. “There’s no way you can do serious deficit reduction without including a significant amount of revenues, including, I believe, a tax restoration on the upper bracket.”

Levin told The Hill that McCain has not met with him yet about plans to fix sequestration.

McCain and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) have a bill that would undo the first year of sequestration by cutting the federal workforce, but no Democrats have signed on.

Kyl said at the press conference that “we’re open to any ideas — this has to be a bipartisan exercise.”

“We would sit down with them and find out what they’re specific proposals are, then we’d be willing to negotiate,” McCain said. “Of course we are against tax increases, but we also are dedicated to the proposition of solving this problem.”