By Jeremy Herb and Carlo Munoz - 07/17/12 09:00 AM EDT
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon argues Washington is living in “a fantasy world” when it comes to the $500 billion in Pentagon budget cuts set to take effect in January.
McKeon (R-Calif.), one of Capitol Hill’s staunchest defenders of the military, feels as though he’s run into a brick wall over attempts to stop the cuts, and puts the blame squarely on Democrats and President Obama for failing to recognize their danger.
“We’ve taken action. They haven’t,” McKeon said. “It doesn’t do any good for [Majority Leader Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] or anybody else to go where they go and give a speech and say they have to have more revenue. Come up with something.”
The Pentagon cuts were set in motion last November after a supercommittee of lawmakers failed to reach a deal to reduce the deficit.
McKeon was the first to vow to stop the cuts but now voices pessimism that Congress will be able to do so.
Replacing the cuts at the last minute in a lame-duck session is a recipe for disaster, the veteran lawmaker warns. He would not engage about supporting proposals by defense hawks Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to close tax loopholes to raise $40 billion to $50 billion in new revenues, which could be used to offset some of the defense cuts.
“That’s Republicans negotiating with Republicans,” McKeon said. “Nothing happens until you get Republicans negotiating with Democrats and the administration.
“There is no reason for us to talk about anything other than you pass a bill, and then we go to conference and then we talk,” he said. “Other than that, we are negotiating with ourselves, and what good does that do?”
Many analysts predict Congress will just delay the cuts, given deep disagreements over spending and taxes. It’s possible a lame-duck session could even agree to kick the can to the next Congress.
But that’s unacceptable to McKeon, who says that defense companies are already cutting back on spending and beginning layoffs for fear of lost contracts. He argues Congress must take action before the lame duck, and companies like Lockheed Martin have underlined his warnings by threatening mass layoffs in November.
McKeon argues President Obama has been AWOL on the issue.
“The president is sitting down there and has no understanding, or just doesn’t care — I mean, where’s the compassion? People are being laid off,” McKeon said. “It’s amazing — I guess the administration just says it’s not going to happen, don’t worry about it. The defense people understand that it’s already happening.”
Democrats repeatedly point out that McKeon and other Republicans voted for the Budget Control Act last year, which set up the automatic cuts in the case of a supercommittee failure.
Many in Washington were skeptical that the supercommittee would succeed, but McKeon said GOP leaders assured him the cuts would not occur. When the supercommittee failed, he said he was left with a severe case of buyer’s remorse for having supported the debt deal.
“We should have had a huge light go off when the supercommittee didn’t do its work,” McKeon said. “This idea everybody has down here, ‘Well, we’ll just handle this problem later’ — that’s how we do everything. Some crisis comes — crisis being we have to get out for a vacation or we have to get out for an election. Those are the crises that we deal with.”
McKeon plans two high-profile hearings in the next two weeks to call attention to the cuts. Four top defense executives are appearing this week, and then the acting Office of Management and Budget director and the Pentagon’s No. 2 official will testify Aug. 1.
He says the onus is on the Senate to act first.
“The Senate can pass a bill,” he said. “Pass a bill, we go to conference, we negotiate, we work it out. There’s a way to do it.”