OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: GOP readies sequester battle plans

They said that a deal to avert the cuts had to be reached before the election or there could be consequences for defense.

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“We’ve got to come to a resolution on the issue before the lame duck,” Kyl said. “If we do not, the pressure to make a deal in context of raising all the tax rates to prevent the fiscal cliff Jan. 1 will be so great that I’m afraid defense will wind up suffering or we’ll have to end up raising taxes to an extent that harms the economy.”

Kyl’s comments highlight the difficulty that defense-minded lawmakers have getting traction for a pre-election deal, as the defense cuts have been overtaken by the parties’ disagreements on taxes.

While the lawmakers had a mostly friendly audience at the event, which was sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute and Foreign Policy Initiative, three Republicans announced Wednesday they are taking their call to battleground states next week.

Graham, Ayotte and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will swing through Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire for a two-day tour of town halls to talk about the danger of the cuts.

In a statement announcing the trip, the senators focused on the fact that these states will “bear the brunt” of the defense cuts. But it’s no accident that all are presidential battlegrounds, too.

While the lawmakers have all said they want a deal before the election, the shift toward the election is reflective of the fact that the odds of a deal or even a delay of the cuts continues to dwindle.

After next week, Congress will be out for more than a month, and then there will be only a few short weeks before Congress leaves town for good before the election. That would leave a solution for the lame-duck session.

Pro-Cantor super-PAC turns to defense cuts: The super-PAC run by former aides to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will hold its own event on sequestration Thursday, where McKeon and Reps. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) will speak about the cuts. The sequestration event comes after the Young Guns Network super-PAC announced a digital ad campaign last week in five vulnerable Democratic districts with an ad hitting the White House for keeping the nature of the cuts “secret.”

Graham knocks conservatives, too: Speaking at Wednesday’s sequester event, Graham also criticized his own party for getting into a sequestration pickle. “To conservatives out there who believe we need to fix this, we also need to do more than that,” Graham said. “We need to think long and hard, how did our party let this happen? How did we lose our way?”

Graham has broken with his party to some degree on the cuts, being the first Republican this year to start talking about including revenues in a sequestration deal. While he hasn’t endorsed raising tax rates, he has said he’s willing to break with the Grover Norquist no-taxes pledge if it means being willing to close loopholes for new revenues.

Coming home: The current Pentagon chief and a former Army chief of staff went before House lawmakers on Wednesday, unveiling their plan to help American troops transition from the battlefield back to civilian life. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki outlined the problems facing both departments as the United States begins its long withdrawal from Afghanistan.

With 23,000 American service members set to rotate back stateside this summer, getting those troops the assistance they need "is going to be a big-ticket item," Panetta told members of the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees during the rare joint session.

One step DOD and the VA have taken to ease that transition is to integrate their benefits processing systems into a single database, which will cut down on duplication and delays of benefits to returning soldiers, Shinseki said. Each soldier will also be assigned a personal counselor to help navigate the benefits process, Panetta added.

But the VA is already overwhelmed with young veterans who returned home from Iraq after the U.S. drawdown in that country last December. The influx of Afghan vets into the system could bog things down even further, despite the changes, according to Panetta. That said, the DOD chief noted that it was a cost both departments would willingly bear. "The system has us overwhelmed... let's not kid ourselves," he said. "This is ... part of the cost of war."

Clark questions Romney's foreign policy: Retired four-star Army general and former presidential candidate Wesley Clark is questioning the validity of presumptive GOP White House nominee Mitt Romney's foreign policy. Clark and House Democrat Rep. Pat Murphy will hold a conference call Thursday "to discuss his positions on national security and foreign policy and address the questions that Romney has yet failed to answer." After his failed 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clark has been one of the party's attack dogs on issues of national security and foreign policy.

In Case You Missed It:

— Senators plan sequester tour

— Senate panel passes new leak measures

— DOD unveils ‘stolen valor’ database

— Iran says sanctions won’t stop nuclear program

— Democrat says cuts would hit social programs


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