WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., in a fiery Senate floor speech Monday blamed Democrats for an impasse that quashed his measure to repeal sequestration.
Cotton, a Senate Armed Services Committee member and combat veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, lashed out Monday, blaming Democrats for letting a change to end dysfunctional budgeting slip away.
“My amendment was the last, best chance in years to stop this bust and boom cycle of budgeting,” Cotton said. “They took a perfectly good bipartisan opportunity to repeal these automatic spending cuts and they threw it away.”
Cotton ripped SASC Democrats for opposing budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act for “hiding” from the vote.
“Every one of those Democrats who sit on the Armed Services Committee and have claimed to want to stop these automatic spending cuts can go home and tell the men and women in uniform in their states that they had a chance to vote on it and they were too cowardly even to put their name on the rolls,” he said.
On Friday, debate ended without votes on hundreds of controversial amendments to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act after what SASC Chair John McCain, R-Ariz., described as an impasse over a package of four amendments — including Cotton’s.
More than 100 noncontroversial amendments were added to the bill without votes, but only one controversial amendment received a vote. The Senate voted to table a measure from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to sunset America’s war authorizations.
Cotton’s amendment would not have repealed or raised statutory caps on discretionary spending, but it would have repealed their enforcement mechanism, sequestration. When the caps are exceeded, it triggers sequestration, an across-the-board budget cut.
It’s unclear whether Cotton’s amendment would have passed in the Senate. The proposition of repealing sequestration or caps would likely have received resistance in the House from Democrats and GOP fiscal hawks.
Easing those caps — as lawmakers have done for several years as part of bipartisan, omnibus spending deals to fund the federal government — requires 60 votes in the Senate, rather than a simple majority. That, in turn, has driven the Republicans who lead a divided GOP caucus to seek bargains with Democrats.
Last week, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and lead Democratic negotiator on the last budget deal, acknowledged the caps useful are useful to Democrats because they provide leverage to negotiate for a match between non-defense and defense spending.
Some Democrats also said they could not support Cotton’s measure because it leaves caps in place for mandatory spending on some social safety net programs.
Cotton, on the floor Monday, blasted that rationale as a pretext, noting that Democrats have voted to extend the sequester on mandatory spending. It is extended into 2025.
“Don’t give me that,” he said. “The automatic sequester consists of a small, almost trivial amount of cuts. And it wouldn’t have affected one penny, not one penny from Social Security or Medicare or veterans benefits.”
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.