McCain: ‘I plead guilty’ to sequester vote

Conceding a frequent line of criticism from Democrats on GOP attempts to reverse sequestration, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he pleads “guilty” to voting for the Budget Control Act that created the potential $500 billion cut to defense.

But McCain said it was time to move past fighting about last year’s vote, and chided the president for not sitting down with Republicans to hammer out a deal on the cuts.

“I plead guilty. It was a bad thing to do, OK?” McCain said in an interview Tuesday evening with Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren. “We did a stupid thing when we said if the select committee failed then there would be automatic across-the-board cuts.”

Voting to raise the debt limit — when the government was in danger of defaulting — has been a tricky position to explain for defense hawks like McCain and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who said in a February interview with The Hill that he regretted his vote.

The Budget Control Act (BCA) raised the debt ceiling and tasked a supercommittee with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, with the caveat that if it failed, an across-the-board cut would hit both defense and domestic spending.

McKeon said that he was assured before the vote that the supercommittee could not fail, but that’s precisely what happened. The sequestration cuts would take effect Jan. 2 and reduce the defense budget by $55 billion in 2013.

Democrats, including President Obama, have frequently brought up the Republican “yea” votes on the BCA to counter attacks from Republicans that they are ignoring the danger of the defense cuts.

“There are a number of Republicans in Congress who don’t want you to know that most of them voted for these cuts,” Obama said in a speech last month. “Now they’re trying to wriggle out of what they agreed to.”

Other Republicans, such as Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) — who have joined McCain on a sequestration tour through swing states — voted against the BCA.

McCain stressed in the interview that the two parties need to sit down together and negotiate a solution, and he and Graham have said they would put some new revenues on the table by closing loopholes, something others in the GOP are opposed to.

But he criticized Obama for not proposing any solutions to sequestration beyond insisting that Republicans must agree to tax increases.

"The first and foremost obligation of the president of the United States is the commander in chief,” McCain said. “The president of the United States has done nothing, zero, zippo. He has been AWOL. He has not even showed any concern about the impending cuts, which would do what the secretary of Defense says [would devastate the military].”

While McCain has been focused primarily on the defense side of the sequestration equation, he also made an effort Tuesday to appeal to those concerned about the domestic cuts.

“We should come to a conclusion to avert both, frankly, the across-the-board cuts on defense, which would devastate our national security, but also the across-the-board cuts that would affect cancer research, National Institutes of Health and others,” McCain said.