The top Republican on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee wants the president to call lawmakers to the White House for talks on avoiding deep defense and other federal spending cuts.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters Sept. 11 that President Barack Obama has yet to “show leadership” on finding a way to keep $1 trillion in federal cuts from kicking in on Jan. 2.
Pressed on what Obama should do, McCain said the president should invite lawmakers to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue for high-level talks about keeping a process known as sequestration from occurring.
Obama should “call us over to the White House and say, ‘Let’s fix this’,” McCain said. “That’s what presidents do. That’s why his title is commander in chief.”
Sequestration, included in broad financial legislation last summer, would make twin $500 billion cuts to national defense and domestic spending accounts early next year unless lawmakers pass a $1.2 trillion debt-reduction package by Dec. 31.
Pentagon officials, industry executives and hawkish lawmakers have warned the new defense cuts will cause job terminations, economic decline and hinder U.S. national security. Some congressional liberals and nonpartisan defense analysts have questioned such claims, citing the size of the annual defense budget and its post-9/11 growth.
McCain sounded pessimistic that lawmakers could reach a deal to avoid the defense cuts without Obama’s involvement. But Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, predicted lawmakers will pass a bill this year that prevents sequestration.
“Ninety percent of us don’t want it [sequestration],” Levin told reporters.
Levin revealed that talks to head off the cuts are under way.
“I’m involved in discussions, and a lot of others are involved in discussions,” Levin said.
It is unclear just what kind of legislation might be used to void the automatic defense cuts. Some lawmakers are talking openly about a bill that would be taken up by both chambers after Election Day that would delay sequestration by three months. Several defense insiders say House and Senate leaders hold the keys to a deal.
But one industry official told Defense News last week his bet is “something gets started when Levin and McCain — and a few from the House — come together, and then take a plan to their [respective] leaders.”