Republican hawks hold fire on Boehner ‘Plan B’ despite automatic defense cuts

Defense hawks who have railed for months against the dangers of sequestration cuts to the Pentagon are not criticizing Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE’s (R-Ohio) “Plan B” proposal that would allow the across-the-board cuts to go through.

One Senate hawk is even saying that the sequestration cuts should go through if entitlement reform is not part of a deal.

Boehner said Tuesday that he was moving to a “Plan B” by having the House vote on legislation to extend tax rates on annual incomes under $1 million, while not addressing the $500 billion in sequester cuts that would hit the defense budget over the next decade.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (R-S.C.) told The Hill Tuesday to “let it go through” when asked about Boehner’s plan.

“I just think that I’m not going to make bad policy to try to avoid sequestration,” Graham said. “It’s a terrible idea, but we’re not going to use sequestration to start making bad tax policy and do a deal that doesn’t reform entitlements.

“That’s what they tried to do,” Graham said of President Obama’s latest proposal, which would replace sequestration and add only $100 billion in defense cuts over 10 years.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.) also declined to criticize Boehner’s plan Tuesday, telling reporters: “I strongly approve of all the negotiations that are going on, and I’m not going to take shots from the peanut gallery.”

Graham and McCain have been among the most vocal opponents of sequestration, warning before the November election that it would have devastating effects on the U.S. military. The lawmakers went on a tour of swing states to highlight the danger of the cuts on the defense industry as well as national security.

In August, Graham said sequestration was "the dumbest" idea and later called Congress "dumb" for agreeing to it in the first place.

But Graham said Tuesday that the cuts did not outweigh the potential for a bad deal on taxes and entitlements.

“No one has been more outspoken about the dangers we face from sequestration the way it’s devised,” Graham said.

“As much damage that will be done to the military, more damage is going to be done to the country where we keep doing one deal after another that delays getting to the heart of the problem, which is entitlement reform. So when the layoff notices come out, call your congressman.”

While he was clearly not pleased with the developments, Graham’s comments represent a shift highlighting the major turn the fiscal-cliff negotiations have taken away from defense since Obama was reelected. Defense spending has been a minor afterthought in a debate dominated by taxes and entitlements, much to chagrin of defense contractors.

Even some defense CEOs in recent weeks have said they are prepared for additional cuts to the Pentagon budget.

“The goal of sequestration was to get a guy like me to just agree to any deal on spending or revenue, or punt the ball yet again on entitlements,” Graham said. “I’m not going to do that.”