WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama joined several senior senators Tuesday in opposing soon-to-be unveiled Republican plans to let Pentagon leaders decide how likely military cuts would be implemented.
The GOP idea to give the Defense Department more flexibility comes as just about everyone on Capitol Hill and in Washington believe pending twin $500 billion cuts to projected defense and domestic spending will be triggered on Friday.
The flexibility authority is expected to be included in at least one — and possibly two — bills that could be voted on this week by the full Senate. Sen. Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., is crafting one of them with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. The duo says they have bipartisan support.
The idea is to let agency leaders and the White House safeguard high-priority programs and positions, and terminate lower ones.
But Obama and some longtime senators oppose the plan. And even one supporter says the GOP bills almost certainly will not be approved by the chamber.
“The problem is when you’re cutting $85 billion in seven months … there’s no smart way to do that,” Obama said during remarks Tuesday at a naval shipyard in Newport News, Va. “You don’t want to have to choose: Do I close funding for the disabled kid or the poor kid? Do I close this Navy shipyard or some other one?”
On Capitol Hill, several pro-Pentagon lawmakers, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said they oppose the plan.
“I think it’s a mistake, in general, to give the power of the purse to the president — to say, ‘Here’s a pot of money. Spend it as you wish’,” Levin told reporters. What some senators are labeling budget flexibility to ease the pain of the sequester cuts Levin says would amount to “an abdication of what the responsibility of the Congress is.”
For those reasons, “I think it’s a mistake,” he said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other senior senators also voiced their opposition to the idea for the same reason on Tuesday.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who told reporters he believes granting the Pentagon and other executive branch agencies greater flexibility to decide what gets trimmed, is “reasonable.” But when asked if he believes the GOP bills will be approved, Corker said, “I don’t think either of them will pass.”