The truth about military cuts
The New York Times said the following in an editorial:
Republican lawmakers started a fire last year when they created a debt-ceiling crisis to force cuts in spending. Now that it is beginning to damage their most treasured military programs, they are blaming President Barack Obama for not putting it out.
“It’s all the president’s fault” seems to be the theme of a tour led by Sen. John McCain this week of states with a large military presence. McCain and two other Republican senators are scaring town-hall meetings with warnings that military bases will be closed and civilian employees will be laid off by the thousands.
Their goal is partly to drum up opposition to the $500 billion across-the-board defense cut that begins in January, but it also is to get voters to blame Obama for those cuts. To do so, they have had to be less than forthright about their role in creating one of the worst examples of governance in many years. And they are not explaining that the defense cuts are hardly the most damaging of the big reductions they helped bring about.
McCain and his two colleagues, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, all supported using the threat of a debt default to win ideological goals that they could not achieve through normal legislation. Ayotte said she could not approve a debt-limit increase without a cap on all federal spending. Graham demanded cuts to Social Security benefits, including raising the retirement age, in exchange for his vote.
The final deal, negotiated by Republicans and the White House, required more than $2 trillion in cuts, far more than could have been won without extortion. But Graham and Ayotte voted no because it also included the possibility of defense cuts and left insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare largely intact.
McCain voted yes, but that has not held him back from denouncing the very deal he supported. He called the defense cuts “an emergency situation” and said he held the president responsible for allowing them to continue. “Facing draconian cuts, it seems to me that the president of the United States ought to at least be involved in trying to prevent this,” he said at a town meeting on Monday in Fayetteville, N.C.
(This echoes an even more dishonest line from Mitt Romney last week that the defense cuts are a direct result of “the president’s policies.”)
Obama has been very clear about his terms: No deal without revenue increases and without addressing the domestic half of the sequester that Republicans never seem to mention in their denunciations. How many people at the meetings knew that the bill supported by McCain would also lead to the layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers, closings of national parks, reductions in food inspections, and cutbacks at the FBI and the Border Patrol? The overall budget deal reduces domestic spending significantly more than defense.
The three Republican senators have proposed closing some unspecified tax loopholes and selling federal lands to bring in more revenue, but that’s hardly a substitute for making the wealthy pay their fair share of income taxes. Shouting about the severity of the defense cuts simply underscores the cost of their no-tax-increase pledges.
The Pentagon, which has had a blank check for a decade, can easily absorb hundreds of billions in cuts, but using an across-the-board cleaver is the wrong way to make them. If the senators are serious about averting a problem they helped create, they can support negotiating a deficit-reduction package that includes tax revenues from the wealthy, or they can urge that both sides of the sequester simply be set aside.
Blaming the president for their own mistake is not a solution.