McKeon: Time to punt on defense cuts

House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) on Thursday said Congress isn’t “mature enough” to reach a deal to reverse automatic defense cuts, and suggested Congress should “kick it down the road” to resolve uncertainty.

McKeon sounded a decidedly pessimistic tone about the ability of Democrats and Republicans to find a way to avert the $500 billion in sequestered cuts to defense spending that will begin in January 2013.

McKeon repeated his position that waiting until the lame-duck session to find a deal is a terrible idea, and for the first time said Congress should simply "kick the can down the road" now, rather than finding a way to reverse them.

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After “one of the nastiest elections” this November, McKeon said it made no sense “that we’re all going to come together in a Kumbaya moment and solve all these problems.”

The cuts through sequestration are just one of a number of high-profile fiscal issues staring down Congress after the election. The Bush tax rates are set to expire at the end of the year, and it’s likely that Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling again — the issue that put the Budget Control Act and sequestration in place.

Both Democrats and Republicans have said that they want to avert the across-the-board sequestration cuts, which would hit roughly $500 billion each to defense and non-defense discretionary spending over the next decade.

But the two sides have been unable to reach a deal about how to find alternative deficit reduction to replace the cuts, as Republicans are opposed to raising taxes and Democrats are hesitant to cut entitlement spending.

McKeon kept up his opposition to raising revenues on Thursday, even as some Republican senators have begun signaling they’d be open to raising revenues through the closing of loopholes, similar to a plan from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

The two heads of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), have said they've begun informal discussions to try to find a way out of sequestration.

McKeon chided Democrats, including Levin, for not having their own plan to avoid the cuts, as McKeon has a bill that would delay the sequestration for one year through cuts to the federal workforce. No Democrats have supported his measure.

McKeon, who told The Hill in February he regretted voting for the Budget Control Act, said that if a deal is not in the works now, Congress should remove the uncertainty for defense contractors and pass legislation to delay the cuts.

“Why don’t we just sit down now and say 'look, we’re not mature enough, we’re not adult enough to solve this, so we’re going to just kick it down the road?' ” McKeon said. "Let’s do it now.”

McKeon brought up comments from Lockheed Martin CEO Bob Stevens, who has warned he will have to send out potential layoff notices to all of his employees just days before the election because of the timing of sequestration and the uncertainty surrounding how the cuts will take effect.

“Why have people go through all this?” he asked. “Let’s take the pressure off of these people who are going to send out these notices needlessly if we do get a fix at some point.”