Armed Services Republicans scramble to avoid defense cuts

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee are introducing new bills this week to stave off the sequestration cuts set to hit the Pentagon.

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Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) is introducing a bill that would target the $500 billion in cuts — rather than letting them hit across-the-board — while legislation from Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) would do away with the defense side of sequestration altogether.

The measures arrive just four days before sequestration is set to take effect, with Republican leadership and the White House at an impasse over finding a fix to the cuts.

Sequestration would take a $46 billion bite out of the Pentagon budget in 2013, and a similar-sized chunk would come out of non-defense discretionary spending.

As the deadline approaches, the White House and congressional Republicans are waging a public relations battle to blame the other side for the cuts.

The White House has blamed Republicans for being unwilling to compromise on a sequestration fix. House GOP leaders say that they have already passed legislation to reverse the across-the-board cuts, while the Democratic-led Senate has not acted.

But Forbes is pushing a new bill to stop the cuts to the Pentagon. Sequestration would hit hardest in military-heavy states like Virginia, where President Obama will speak at the Newport News shipyards on Tuesday.

“Lawmakers in Washington have crossed a red line in our constitutional duty — outlined in the first sentence of the U.S. Constitution — to provide for the common defense,” Forbes said in a statement. “I voted against sequestration, and I’ve warned about these cuts for 18 months. This bill represents an opportunity for lawmakers to blunt sequestration's debilitating impact on national defense.”

The bill would remove the Defense Department from sequestration reduce the total size of the sequester cuts by that amount, which would total roughly $500 billion over the next decade.

However, the legislation from Forbes will face an uphill battle because many House Republicans want to keep the cuts intact and Democrats are opposed to stopping only the Pentagon cuts and not the domestic side.

Coffman’s bill wouldn’t stop the Pentagon cuts but would allow for targeted defense reductions; all sides agree that sequestration’s across-the-board mechanism is bad policy.

The legislation would save $500 billion with moves like reducing the number of active duty U.S. troops to pre-9/11 levels, adopting a “sea swap” policy for some Navy ships and spending less on biofuels and military bands.

Coffman laid out the bulk of his legislation, which will be introduced Monday, in an op-ed in The Denver Post last week.

“The problem with sequester is that the same weight is given to vital programs as to ones that are unnecessary,” Coffman wrote. “My alternative plan cancels the haphazard cuts scheduled to begin next month and reduces spending in a smarter and safer way by more than $500 billion during the next decade.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) also introduced legislation earlier this month to avoid the first year of sequestration by cutting the size of the federal workforce. His legislation, which has a companion bill in the Senate, has not gained any traction with leadership to move forward.