Committee chairmen urge Republicans to reverse defense cuts

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCummings to lie in state at the Capitol Elizabeth Warren should concern Donald Trump 'bigly' Lawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show MORE (Ariz.) and Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryPelosi arrives in Jordan with bipartisan congressional delegation Furious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Five ways Trump's Syria decision spells trouble MORE (Texas), the respective chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services committees, urged fellow Republicans to undo cuts to the defense budget in an op-ed Tuesday.  

Congressional Republicans now share in equal measure with President Obama the "highest constitutional responsibility" of providing for the nation's defense, they wrote in The Wall Street Journal. 

"If Washington does not change course now, Republicans will share the blame for the national security failures that will inevitability result," they wrote, adding that since the cuts started in 2013, the world has become "more dangerous and the threats to the nation and to American interests have grown." 

"We do not think this is a coincidence," they wrote. 

McCain and Thornberry directed their message to budget hawks in their own party who are unwilling to overturn the $1 trillion in cuts to the defense budget over 10 years known as "sequestration," which was imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) after lawmakers failed to agree on tax and spending reform. 

Overturning the cuts would take an act by a Republican-controlled Congress, but there are many within the Republican Party who see sequestration as a valuable asset in their drive to cut government spending. 

"Heaping nearly $1 trillion in cuts on the U.S. military while ignoring entitlements is not conservative fiscal policy and will not solve the problems of deficits and debt," the chairmen wrote. 

Rather, the true drivers of debt are entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare — not defense spending, they wrote, adding that it is only 16 percent of federal spending and the lowest share since before World War II. 

"There is nothing conservative or Republican about pretending that Washington can balance the budget by cutting defense spending. The new Republican majorities in Congress should not allow such reckless policy," they added. 

"How can Republicans — the party of Ronald Reagan and 'peace through strength' — possibly justify a lower defense budget than that of President Obama?" they asked. 

Under sequestration, the 2016 defense budget will be $500 billion. The White House has submitted a defense budget for $535 billion. McCain and Thornberry went further, arguing it should be $577 billion — the level planned before sequestration hit.

If the cuts aren't relieved by Oct. 1 or lawmakers don't find areas in the defense budget to cut, $35 billion would indiscriminately be cut from the budget by slashing an equal percentage from every Pentagon program. 

McCain and Thornberry — two advocates of acquisition reform — acknowledged there is waste in the Pentagon's budget, but said "sequestration does not target Pentagon waste." 

They also said there were some Republicans who believe the impact of sequestration has been exaggerated. 

However, they argued the cuts were putting American lives at risk. 

"Continuing to slash defense invites greater danger to national security while shamefully asking the country’s military men and women to do their jobs with shrinking resources. Without a course change, history’s judgment will be harsh, and rightfully so," they wrote.