Graham calls sequester the ‘dumbest’ idea, urges Obama to help avert cuts

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) implored President Obama on Sunday to work with lawmakers seeking to avert potentially devastating automatic defense cuts set for the first of the year, calling the sequester “the dumbest” idea.

Graham called on Obama to send a representative to Capitol Hill to sit down with senators to discuss a plan that would buy time before the defense sequestration takes effect on January 1st.

“Send a representative from the president's office to engage the senators who are trying to find a way forward,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“The supercommittee's failure is to take $600 billion out of the defense budget on top of the $478 we're already cutting. It also hurts special education. It hurts a lot of nondefense programs like the National Cancer Institute,” Graham said. “Congress does dumb things. This sequestering idea was the dumbest thing.”

Under the deal struck last year to raise the nation’s debt limit, automatic spending cuts of more than $1 trillion over 10 years will hit on January 1, 2013, after the failure of the congressional “supercommittee” tasked with finding an agreement to scale back government spending. Half of those cuts will come from military spending.

Both Congress and the White House hope to avoid the impending cuts and a spike in tax rates, with economists warning that the nation faces a “fiscal cliff,” but efforts at a solution have reached an impasse. 

Graham told “State of the Union” host Candy Crowley that he would be willing to put “revenue” on the table, but not tax increases and expressed optimism he could fashion a deal with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to delay sequestration four months. 

“I'm willing to put revenue on the table, but not by raising tax rates. Carl Levin is willing to cut mandatory spending in a responsible way to buy us four months,” he said.

Democrats argue that some of the $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction should come from tax increases on the wealthiest Americans, while Republicans have stood firmly against raising taxes in the struggling economy.

President Obama’s top political strategist, Robert Gibbs, also appearing on CNN, blamed the impending sequester on the GOP, saying their defiance on raising taxes on the wealthy led the supercommittee to fail.

The senior Obama campaign adviser mocked the GOP opposition to allowing an expiration of the Bush-era tax rates on those making over $250,000 a year, characterizing their stance as “let's preserve the size of the Navy and Air Force by giving out a tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.”

Sen. Graham, however, called for decoupling the discussion over averting sequestration from the debate over extending the Bush-era tax rates, which are set to expire at the end of the year.

The South Carolina Republican said the four month extension under discussion among his group of senators would not raise taxes but would eliminate “special deals” available to certain industries in the tax code.

“It rejects raising tax rates. But what we'd do is we'd go into the tax code and generate revenue, taking whaling deductions away from whaling captains, suspend the corporate jet deduction for a time so we can buy fighter jets. We'd have other cuts in the budget, mandatory spending cuts, a balanced approach to offset sequestration for four months. There's $1.2 trillion we give away in deductions and exemptions,” Graham said.

Barring some kind of extension, Graham said that the American people will be “outraged” at the inability of Congress to do its job.

“If politicians fail to do their job in the supercommittee, the penalty was to destroy the military. We got this wrong. We should fire the politicians, keep the soldiers. So I believe the American people are going to be outraged when they hear what comes the military's way because we couldn't get our act together in cutting $1.2 trillion in over a decade,” Graham said.

"This idea of holding the Defense Department hostage to the tax debate makes me sick to my stomach. Knock it off. Find a way to avoid sequestration."