OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Anticipated OMB, House GOP sequester showdown falls flat

The contentious hearing left committee members fairly stunned and no more informed on the administration's plan to handle sequestration. Ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) noted some of the more heated exchanged between Zeints and GOP members were simply "embarrassing." 

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In the end, Republican committee members got what they wanted from Wednesday's hearing — to put the boot to Zeints and the Obama White House. But with five months to go before sequestration goes into effect, it seems the committee's efforts accomplished little more than that. 

Hearing was ‘uncomfortable’ for McKeon: McKeon’s statement at the conclusion of the hearing indicates it was likely a disappointment for the Armed Services chairman, as he said he was “uncomfortable” with the direction it took. McKeon had pushed hard to get Zients to appear before his committee, and he has been among the most vocal about stopping sequestration immediately, rather than in the lame-duck session.

While McKeon has been critical of the Obama administration for not planning for sequestration and has attacked the president, his tone Wednesday was markedly different toward Zients than some of his GOP colleagues. McKeon pressed Zients on the Labor Department’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act guidance and asked why OMB couldn’t make reasonable assumptions on the FY 2013 budget to begin sequestration planning, but he avoided the fight about taxes that led to some of the loudest exchanges.

Of course, McKeon did not blame his side’s lawmakers for the hearing’s partisan turn, instead faulting Zients for blaming sequestration on Republicans’ refusal to raise taxes.

Inhofe releases new sequester bill: Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a new bill Wednesday that would do away with sequester, but it’s highly unlikely to break the partisan gridlock that has kept Congress from moving on sequestration. Inhofe’s bill would replace the full $1.2 trillion needed to undo sequestration, and also put long-term defense spending at 4 percent of GDP, a proposal backed by GOP presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.

The bill achieves savings through a host of Republican-backed proposals, including the repeal of Obama’s healthcare law; turning Medicaid into block grants for states; reducing non-defense discretionary spending to 2006 levels — the level of spending the Pentagon would hit should sequester occur — block granting food stamps; reducing the federal workforce by 10 percent; tort reform; and repealing climate change activities. None of these proposals, of course, would be considered acceptable by Democrats, so Inhofe’s bill is not likely to move the needle in the sequester debate.

Senate appropriators to wrap up defense bill: The $604 billion defense appropriators in the Senate approved for the Pentagon's fiscal 2013 budget will get one last look on Thursday, before the full Senate weighs in on the proposed spending plan. Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee plan to put its final touches on the FY 2013 spending blueprint passed by the panel's Defense subcommittee on Tuesday. 

The subpanel's draft is virtually a mirror image of the $604.5 billion plan DOD sent to Capitol Hill in February. However, it is much smaller than the $634 billion spending blueprint Senate Armed Services Committee members signed off on July 2, which included $543 billion in discretionary funds for the Department of Defense and nuclear weapons programs in the Department of Energy and $89 billion in funding for Afghanistan. 

Aside from a handful of minor tweaks, the full committee is expected to move the legislation to the floor on Thursday. But what happens after that remains to be seen. Lawmakers are set to leave Washington on Friday for the congressional summer break. The bill will likely be moved to the Senate floor after the congressional hiatus, which ends sometime in September. 


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

— Sen. Coburn demands new rifles for Army 

— Gen. Dempsey pushes for passage of cyber legislation

— McCain slams White House on leaks investigation

— Senate backs long-term U.S. plans in Afghanistan


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