The inclusion of potential defense cuts in the debt deal negotiated by the White House and congressional leaders has emerged as a sticking point for some key House Republicans as leaders are working to round up support ahead of a vote on the measure Monday evening.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to meet with members of the House Armed Services Committee Monday afternoon to discuss their concerns about the debt deal, which includes a “trigger” mechanism that would force cuts of as much as $600 billion to the Pentagon budget if a bipartisan committee does not come to agreement on a further deficit-reduction plan by the fall. (The Post’s Jason Ukman has an in-depth analysis of what the debt deal might mean for the Pentagon.)
The meeting comes as the House is poised to move first on the debt-ceiling measure, with a vote expected as early as Monday evening. If the $2.1 trillion package passes, then the Senate would likely take it up later Monday or Tuesday.
Several members leaving a House Republican conference meeting Monday afternoon said that they were concerned that the deal would allow the committee to make deep cuts to Pentagon spending without giving Congress any say in the matter.
Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), who sits on both the House Armed Services Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence, said that Armed Services members had held an informal meeting Monday morning and that about half of the members on the committee had raised their hands to indicate that they were concerned about the cuts.
“I’m obviously giving the speaker every benefit of the doubt...but I’m on Armed Services and Intel,” Rooney said. “One of the big reasons I’m here is to make sure we’re the strongest country in the world, and over the next ten years, if I feel like this takes away from that at all, you know, then what’s the point of me being here? That’s what I’m trying to salvage – that that won’t happen. And if I’m convinced that it won’t happen, then I’ll probably support the speaker, but I need to get there still.”
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a freshman and member of the Armed Services Committee, declared that he was a “no” vote on the bill “because it puts us in a bad position in national defense; it risks a 20 percent cut in our security needs in 2013 without a further vote of the United States Congress.”
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), another Armed Services Committee member, said after Monday’s conference meeting, adding that he was still undecided on the proposal.
“We sort of have to work through the numbers and see what it does because there’s a lot of mechanisms in it, you know?” Akin said. “The defense cuts are really something that’s serious to us, but we have to look at it and see what’s the probability that type of thing would happen.”
Senior members were rallying behind the debt plan Monday, however, and several spoke out at the GOP conference meeting in favor of the proposal – a move that could help to sway rank-and-file members.
Heading into Monday’s meeting, Rep. Bill Young (R-Calif.), chairman the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said that he was a “yes” vote on the debt package, even though “there are still a lot of questions to be answered because we don’t have allocation actions at this point.”
“As far as I’ve been able to review the agreement, it is workable; it’s doable without adversely affecting readiness or the soldier,” Young said.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) also spoke out in defense of the debt-reduction plan Monday, according to several members who attended the meeting.
Still, some rank-and-file members remained skeptical.
“All I can tell you is what is in this bill,” Brooks said when asked about Young’s support for the measure. “A second reason I’m going to vote ‘no’ is we are making a $2.4 trillion decision like a runaway freight train and we need to take time and deliberate an issue of this magnitude. ... It is one thing for certain people to reach an agreement yesterday; it is another thing for there to be a forced vote today. We could take the vote tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday; certainly we could delay matters long enough for us to make sure we’re making the right decision.”
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said he was undecided, noting that he was “concerned about the potential cut in defense spending” as well as the fact that the deal didn’t live up to House conservatives’ “cut, cap and balance” pledge.
Brooks said that there were “a good number” of members who shared his concerns about the bill, although “I do not know whether it will be enough to stop the bill from passage.”
Several of the members worried about the defense spending cuts described themselves as having concerns different from those of the members who had opposed the previous debt-reduction efforts put forth by House Republican leadership.
“I’m not one of these guys that’s like, ‘Does it go far enough in cuts?’” Rooney said. “This is different. This is about cutting too much in this area, and what it would mean for our troops; what it would mean for our capabilities to make the best equipment moving forward so that we remain the main superpower in the world. I mean, I don’t want to give China any reason to be celebrating right now, I guess.”