Republican senators took to the floor Thursday to criticize President Obama's lack of a plan to prevent automatic cuts to Pentagon spending.
The senators accused Obama of showing a lack of leadership on the cuts, and took him to task for not offering a plan despite a law requiring that he provide an outline to Congress.
They also said Obama wants to use the defense cuts as leverage to convince Congress to allow tax rates to rise.
“We’re heading toward a train wreck, a disaster when it comes to defense spending.”
The senators connected the violence in the Middle East to the fight over the defense cuts, with McCain saying recent events show the Pentagon's budget should not be trimmed.
The automatic cuts will be triggered by last summer's debt-ceiling deal, which imposed draconian cuts on the Pentagon and non-defense spending if a supercommittee of lawmakers failed to come up with its own plan. The supercommittee failed late last year.
The defense cuts were intended to serve as an incentive for lawmakers to come up with an alternative, something they have been unable to do.
Thune and the other senators involved in Thursday's floor action — Republican Sens. Kelley Ayotte (N.H.), John McCainJohn McCainRepublicans tie Trump's Defense pick to funding fight Lawmakers haggle over funding bill as shutdown nears Markos Moulitsas: Kill the filibuster MORE (Ariz.) and Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTaiwan lobby scores victory with Trump call Sharpton pressures Dems on Trump nominees Trump allies warn: No compromise on immigration MORE (Ala.) — said Obama was too busy campaigning to work with them on preventing the defense cuts.
“Where is the commander in chief on this? This cannot be punted until after the election,” Ayotte said. “I understand if he’s too busy campaigning right now, but this is too important.”
Under a law approved by Congress earlier this summer, Obama faced a Sept. 6 deadline to provide an outline on how the cuts would be implemented. The White House has said it would release the plan Friday.
“Looks like they’re just running out the clock … hoping Congress goes home to campaign until the lame duck so they can use defense cuts to get tax increases,” Thune said.
McCain said the White House has given the impression that it won’t work with lawmakers until Republicans agree to raising taxes on the wealthiest. Since Republicans haven’t indicated that they’d agree to that, negotiations aren’t expected to start until after Congress returns from recess in November.
“We have a commander in chief who is not leading and a majority leader in the Senate who is not leading,” Sessions said. “Under the law these cuts will take place in January unless we take action to change it … Are we going to wait until Dec. 31?”
The lawmakers expressed concerns common among Republicans that the sequestration cuts to defense could endanger the safety of the country.
Although he said he thinks the sequestration won’t take effect, Sessions said the Department of Defense is trying to plan for the cuts sequestration would impose, causing disruptions.
“Sequester cannot take place right now,” Sessions said. “It makes sense for us to fix it now to prevent disruptions happening in the Department of Defense.”