Two top Senate Republican hawks have plans to save the defense budget if the congressional deficit-reduction committee cannot reach an agreement, a situation that would trigger $600 billion in defense cuts over 10 years.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) are part of a larger effort to protect the defense budget from the “sequestration” mechanism, which would automatically be activated if the “supercommittee” is unable to agree by Thanksgiving on at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over a decade. They sent a letter to the Pentagon last week asking for a detailed analysis of the consequences for the military if the trigger is pulled.

“My intent is that sequestration on national defense will not take place.” McCain told The Cable on Tuesday. “We’ll do everything we can to prevent [the trigger from] being implemented.”

McCain said he would introduce a measure to undo the Budget Control Act of 2011, which codified the deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Graham went into more detail about what hawks will seek as a replacement for the defense trigger.

“I hope the supercommittee can do its job, but we can’t just live on hope around here,” Graham said. “If the committee fails, I am not going to allow the triggers to be pulled that would shoot the Defense Department in the head.”

Graham said he would put forth a substitute for the triggers, “something where the whole country shares in the failure of the supercommittee, not just the Defense Department and Medicare providers.”

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) told reporters Tuesday that he is not “optimistic,” but he said he is “hopeful” that the supercommittee will succeed. “Everybody’s working in . . . good faith,” he said with a wry grin.

Palestinian support

A group of House lawmakers is making the case for continuing U.S. support to the Palestinian Authority, despite a Palestinian bid to seek full membership in the United Nations.

“Maintaining U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority is in the essential strategic interest of Israel and the United States,” 44 lawmakers, all Democrats, wrote in a letter to House Appropriations state and foreign operations subcommittee heads Kay Granger (R-Tex.) and Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.). The letter was organized by Reps. David E. Price (D-N.C.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) released her hold on Palestinian Authority security funding last week, but she and Granger are still holding up about $187 million in non-security funding. Also, Congress is set to consider whether to allocate a whole new tranche of aid to the PA as part of the upcoming negotiations over the fiscal 2012 state and foreign operations spending bill.

“The Price-Welch letter puts down a marker that there is a difference of opinion on whether aid to the [Palestinian Authority] should continue in Congress,” said Dylan Williams, J Street’s director of government affairs.

Pakistan controversy

On Oct. 10, Pakistani American businessman Mansoor Ijaz alleged in an op-ed in the Financial Times that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had offered to replace Pakistan’s military and intelligence leadership and cut ties with militant groups after Osama bin Laden’s killing in Abbottabad, in exchange for U.S. help to avoid an impending military coup in Pakistan.

Ijaz’s story has grown into a huge controversy in Pakistan. He said Zardari communicated this offer by sending a top-secret memo on May 10 through Ijaz, to be hand-delivered to Adm. Mike Mullen, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen, now retired, denied this week ever having dealt with Ijaz in comments made through his spokesman at the time, Capt. John Kirby.

“Admiral Mullen does not know Mr. Ijaz and has no recollection of receiving any correspondence from him,” Kirby said. “And, in any case, he did not take any action with respect to our relationship with Pakistan based on any such correspondence . . . preferring to work at the relationship directly through Gen. [Ashfaq] Kayani [the Pakistani army chief of staff] and inside the interagency process.”