GOP senator to Obama: Step up to help avert sequester defense cuts

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) charged Saturday that President Obama and Washington Democrats have failed to work in good faith to roll back looming automatic spending cuts that would hit the military.

Wicker used his party’s weekly address to charge that the automatic cuts, which are moving forward because of the failure of last year’s supercommittee, could have been avoided altogether if Obama had offered more assistance to the deficit-reduction panel. 

The Mississippi Republican added that House Republicans had already passed a plan to postpone the sequestration cuts, and that top GOP lawmakers from both chambers had offered to work with the White House on a bipartisan way to wring out budget savings.

“So far, the president has failed to offer any answer. Mr. President – it is hard to reach a bipartisan solution if the commander-in-chief is not engaged,” said Wicker, a senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“The looming sequester crisis should be an opportunity for both parties to work together now to avoid permanent harm to our troops and to our security. Let’s hope the commander-in-chief decides to lead.”

Wicker’s address comes not long after Congress enacted legislation that will force the Obama administration to detail how it will implement the sequester, and as the automatic cuts are poised to impact both November’s election and the overall state of the economy.

Sequestration, which is scheduled to start going into effect in early 2013, joins the looming expiration of Bush-era tax rates as key parts of the so-called “fiscal cliff” – the year-end combination of spending cuts and tax increases that analysts say could easily push the U.S. back into recession. 

Republicans, like Wicker in this week’s address, have also latched on to comments from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other officials suggesting that sequestration could have a devastating impact on the military. 

Defense contractors like Lockheed Martin have also said they might have to issue layoff threats because of the sequester shortly before November’s election, an idea the Obama administration has called “inappropriate.”

In all, the sequester would decrease spending by some $984 billion over nine years, with half of those cuts hitting national security. House Republicans have voted to replace some of those cuts with savings from, among other places, food stamp programs and Medicaid. 

“The stakes are unmistakably high,” Wicker said. “Crippling defense cuts are just around the corner, and we have an obligation to make tough decisions on how to avoid sequestration and balance the budget long-term.”

But top Democrats have said they believe the sequester can act as a catalyst for a big deficit-reduction deal, by serving as leverage to get Republicans to agree to include tax increases on the highest earners –something largely opposed on the GOP side. 

Democrats also have noted that the majority of congressional Republicans voted for last year’s Budget Control Act, which put into place the supercommittee and raised the debt ceiling after a months-long standoff.

GOP senators are also scheduled to travel to Nevada next week, as part of a road trip to lobby against allowing the defense cuts to be implemented. 

But while Wicker calls several times for the two parties to come together on a spending and budget agreement, his address also illustrated the gulf between the two parties. 

Wicker, for instance, called out Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the chairwoman of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, after Murray suggested that her party would be willing to absorb the full force of the fiscal cliff if Republicans didn’t relent on taxes. 

“We will not come to an agreement if your own Democratic Senate campaign chairman keeps calling for us to drive off the fiscal cliff,” Wicker says.