Sens. Graham and McCain target defense cuts

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 23, 2011 

Sen. Lindsey Graham vowed Tuesday to do everything in his power to prevent at least $600 billion in automatic defense spending cuts as a result of the failure of the deficit-reduction super committee to reach agreement on $1.2 trillion in overall deficit decreases by today’s (Wednesday’s) deadline.

Graham and Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, said the $600 billion in military cuts over a decade would come on top of $628 billion in spending reductions the Pentagon has already absorbed for the next five years.

“As every military and civilian defense official has stated, these cuts represent a threat to the national security interests of the United States,” Graham and McCain said in a joint statement. “They cannot be allowed to occur.”

Graham, a military lawyer who’s served active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his aides declined to say what steps the second-term Seneca Republican might take to block the defense cuts, most of which won’t start until 2013.

South Carolina could be hit harder than most states as home to the Army’s main training base at Fort Jackson in Columbia and Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter, one of the nation’s largest military facilities.

House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of Columbia, a panel member, blamed its failure on the refusal of GOP members to accept any tax increases as part of the final package, even those limited to the wealthiest Americans.

“We needed three ingredients to make this work – revenue raisers, spending cuts and job creation,” Clyburn told McClatchy. “When Republicans took any significant revenue raisers (tax hikes) off the table, it was a recipe for failure.”

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a first-year Indian Land Republican, said Clyburn and the panel’s other five Democratic members preferred forced cuts of $1.2 trillion to be split between defense and non-military programs, with most entitlement spending spared.

“If (they) didn’t get exactly what they wanted in the way of tax increases, they were more than happy to accept the defense cuts,” Mulvaney told McClatchy. “They’re more than happy to take the (committee’s) failure. That’s the best outcome for them.”

Clyburn branded that claim bogus.

“I represent a state with eight military installations and a congressional district with a number of colleges and universities, seven of them minority-serving institutions (which also would face forced spending cuts),” he said. “I have been very vocally opposed to sequestration (mandatory deficit reductions) from the beginning. Making smart, surgical cuts is always preferred to the across-the-board approach of sequestration.”

Mulvaney expressed guarded confidence that Congress will act in the coming year to head off at least some of the $1.2 trillion in mandated deficit reductions, which are to be split in half between defense and non-military programs.

“I expect us to try to find a way to prevent the cuts to the military and prevent cuts to the Medicare providers,” Mulvaney told McClatchy. “The question will be whether we seek to replace those with real cuts someplace else (in the budget) or whether we use the typical Washington smoke and mirrors to say we’re cutting spending when we’re really not.”

Clyburn was less optimistic.

“I continue to be hopeful, but I am doubtful,” he said.

Mulvaney said he didn’t expect the 12-member debt panel – with six senators and six representatives split between Republicans and Democrats – to reach a deal.

“I fully expected this thing to fail,” Mulvaney said. “That’s why I thought it was such a bad deal to begin with – and one reason why I voted against the Budget Control Act in August.”

South Carolina was the only state in which all Republican lawmakers – Graham and Sen. Jim DeMint in the Senate; Mulvaney and four GOP colleagues in the House – voted against the early August bill that set up the super committee in exchange for raising the federal debt ceiling.

Clyburn again disagreed with Mulvaney, saying the 12 panel members could have reached an agreement, but he said the six Republicans feared the wrath of influential anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist.

“If it were up to the 12 people in the room, it would get done,” Clyburn said. “In the final analysis, however, there was a 13th person – D.C. lobbyist Grover Norquist – who was not in the room, but who seemed to have veto power over the six Republicans who were in the room.”

Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, an advocacy group in Washington, has been collecting signed pledges for years from GOP lawmakers promising to vote against any tax increases and publicly rebuking those who fail to make good on their vows.

Rep. Tim Scott, a freshman North Charleston Republican, said the debt panel had an impossible assignment.

“I voted against this arrangement from the beginning as it was unrealistic to believe a group of 12 members could solve our problems when 535 (members of Congress) could not,” he said.

Scott said the panel’s deadlock gives Congress “a new beginning” to succeed.

“I will continue working with my colleagues to find smart, sensible ways to reduce spending without placing burdens on our job creators and current seniors,” he said. “We have no other choice.”

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