In his speech tonight, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) decried Obama for cutting defense, saying, “We can’t afford another $500 billion in cuts to our defense budget — on top of the nearly $500 billion in cuts that the president is already making…And yet, the president is playing no leadership role in preventing this crippling blow to our military.”
The Budget Control Act, passed as a condition for Republican support for raising the debt ceiling last summer, contains a 10 percent across-the-board cut in defense spending – the cut that McCain was referencing. It comes out to $30 billion in cuts next year and $510 billion in cuts over the next ten years. The cuts were included in the event that the so-called “SuperCommittee” did not agree on a plan that reduced the deficit by $1.5 trillion. That committee failed, and now the fallback cuts are due to take effect at the end of the year.
Republicans are now trying to reverse those cuts. Paul Ryan has said a Romney-Ryan administration would roll them back, arguing that 44,000 jobs would be lost if they were to take effect. Ryan, however, voted for the cuts as well. So did House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Armed Services Ranking Member Buck McKeon, as well as Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and minority whip Jon Kyl. Now all five or those people are calling for the cuts to be reversed.
These Congressional Republicans defend their position by noting that the defense cuts were meant to spur the SuperCommittee to adopt a better debt-reduction accord, and that a vote for the Budget Control Act shouldn’t be interpreted as a vote for the cuts the law contains. “This sequester was never intended to be policy,” Ryan and McKeon wrote in an op-ed earlier this year. “It was meant to be something both parties wished to avoid, in order to motivate members of the supercommittee to work together.”
Which is fair enough. The sequester is a blunt instrument, in that it does not make any attempt to differentiate between kinds of defense spending. It simply cuts everything by 10 percent across the board. But there’s a body that has the power to change the law and keep the laws from taking effect, namely Congress, one body of which is controlled by Republicans and the other body of which can’t pass laws without Republican support. So attacking Obama for taking “no leadership role” in reversing the cuts is a bit strange. He can’t reduce the cuts. Congress can.