A Republican House aide, like many other pro-defense Republicans, is a bit exasperated at the moment. The source of the trouble is the amount of defense cuts in BOTH the first and second tranche of cuts in the newly proposed debt-ceiling bill. As for the first round, of the $990 billion in total cuts, those familiar with the potential deal tell me, there are more defense cuts than were in the Boehner bill. Those are real, immediate cuts.
As for the second round, a firestorm has erupted. From a GOP House office that was heavily pushing for the Boehner bill:
[In] the trigger, medicare cuts are capped, defense is not. Defense cuts would make approximately half of “across the board” cuts. Defense spending is typically 18% of federal spending. Hypothetically, that means the Committee can come up . . . include gang of six type revenue plan that could force the House to a choice: the committee product or the massive defense cuts in the trigger.
Defenders of the plan will say that the defense cuts may never come about, or that if the committee makes some cuts but not enough, only the remainder would be subject to a 50-50 sequestration. This is no small consolation to House and Senate pro-defense lawmakers who fear that the committee won’t do its job and that draconian defense cuts will follow.
Why would Republicans give so much on defense? An adviser close to the talks says: “This is the only thing Democrats are getting. It was more important than taxes.” If so, and national defense cuts are now a “get” for the Democratic Party regardless of our national security needs, this is shameful. And if Republican negotiators give in, then the Democrats are going to have to come up with lots and lots of votes to make sure the bill passes both houses.
But the deal still is not done, I am told. Although negotiators are working toward an announcement around dinnertime, we know that Congress is famous for late-night meals.
UPDATE (4:32 p.m.): From the communications director for Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) ““Senator Lieberman has indicated that our debt crisis is so severe that all parts of the federal government have to cut spending and that includes Defense. But, he also strongly believes that protecting the security of the American people is the first responsibility of American government and means that any cuts to defense must be fair, limited, and mindful of the fact that we live in a very dangerous world. For these reasons, Senator Lieberman is very concerned about rumors that the debt agreement now being negotiated will disproportionately cut defense spending and result in unacceptably high risk to our national security.”
UPDATE II (5:45 p.m.) From a key GOP House office: “If defense cuts are bad there will be a sizable GOP defection in the House.”