GOP senators accuse Obama of failing to lead on pending defense cuts

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. 

“All Americans are required to follow the laws of the land and it seems that the president owes the American people a report on the impact of sequestration,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn ThuneGOP ObamaCare fight faces do-or-die procedural vote Four GOP senators will vote against taking up healthcare bill without changes Week ahead in tech: Lawmakers turn focus to self-driving cars MORE (R-S.D.), one of four senators who took part in the discussion. “It’s clear they wanted these cuts to defense as leverage to raise taxes.

“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 McCainChanging America, Part VI: America’s growing education divide Congress needs to support the COINS Act GOP’s message on ObamaCare is us versus them MORE (Ariz.) and Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsMcCaskill attended reception at Russian ambassador's residence in 2015 Sessions: Supreme Court travel ban order a victory for separation of powers Russia recalling ambassador at center of Trump campaign controversy: report 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.”