GOP Armed Services Committee Senators Endorse ‘Balanced’ Deficit Reduction Approach

A group of six senators — three Democrats, three Republicans — are urging leaders of both parties to ward off automatic cuts to domestic and defense spending at the end of the year with more targeted deficit reduction policies.

But while the clamor to avoid so-called “sequestration” is nothing new, the GOP signatories’ adoption of the Democrats’ call for “balanced” deficit reduction represents a significant departure.

The letter warns that sequestration will damage both the economy and domestic security and therefore, they conclude, “we are committed to working together to help forge a balanced bipartisan deficit reduction package to avoid damage to our national security, important domestic priorities, and our economy.”The letter was written by the top Democrat and Republican on the Armed Services committee — Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) — as well as Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). All signatories except for Whitehouse sit on the Armed Services committee.

“Balanced” means different things to different members. But crucially it is a Democratic codeword for reforms that include both spending cuts and revenue increases. Republican leaders have consistently opposed higher taxes in negotiations with Democrats over long-term budget consolidation.

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) hinted he and his conference would oppose higher taxes even if Obama wins. “Why would I ever be for something like that? I’m not,” he told reporters.

But some rank and file Republicans — even orthodox anti-tax conservatives — think the GOP will cave under the weight of an Obama victory.

“We’re not going to save our defense unless we go along with the president’s wishes to raise taxes on small business,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), per The Washington Post. “It’s not a good choice. I would never support it. . . . [But] there are enough Republicans, I think, who are so afraid of defense cuts that they would probably give in.”

Read the full letter below.

September 21, 2012

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Republican Leader McConnell:

We face a critical challenge in the next few months: balancing the need to reduce the deficit with the need to safeguard important priorities, particularly protecting our national security, vital domestic programs, and our economic recovery. We believe it is imperative to enact a bipartisan deficit reduction package to avoid the severe economic damage that would result from the implementation of sequestration. Any deficit reduction package should be long term and should provide as much certainty as possible for businesses and consumers.

The Congressional Budget Office has already warned sequestration in combination with the expiration of current tax policy could send our fragile economy back into a recession and raise unemployment above 9 percent, and the administration agrees that sequestration “would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments, and core government functions.” Failure to act to address the debt would result in sequestration taking effect in January 2013 with significant detrimental impact on our fragile economic recovery. According to a report done for the Aerospace Industries Association, if sequestration is allowed to occur in January, the nation will lose approximately 1 million jobs because of defense budget cuts and 1 million jobs because of domestic cuts in 2013.

Make no mistake about the devastating impact of sequestration. According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, sequestration would leave our nation with its smallest ground force since 1940, smallest number of ships since 1915, and smallest Air Force in its history, and “would inflict severe damage to our national defense for generations.” The indiscriminate across-the-board defense cuts scheduled to start this January would result in a 9.4 percent reduction to defense discretionary funding and a 10 percent reduction to defense mandatory spending programs. The administration reports that “sequestration would result in a reduction in readiness of many non-deployed units, delays in investments in new equipment and facilities, cutbacks in equipment repairs, declines in military research and development efforts, and reductions in base services for military families.” Specifically, the Army would see a $7 billion reduction in operations and maintenance (O&M) funding, and the Navy and Air Force would lose another $4.3 billion each in their O&M accounts.

In addition, sequestration’s impact will be felt beyond the Department of Defense. On the non-defense spending side, the administration reports that sequestration would “undermine investments vital to economic growth, threaten the safety and security of the American people, and cause severe harm to programs that benefit the middle-class, seniors and children.” The National Institutes of Health would face a $2.5 billion cut and “would have to halt or curtail scientific research, including needed research into cancer and childhood diseases.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would see a $464 million cut, and states and local communities would lose billions in federal education funding for Title I, special education State grants, and other programs.

Based on this, we are committed to working together to help forge a balanced bipartisan deficit reduction package to avoid damage to our national security, important domestic priorities, and our economy.

Sequestration will endanger the lives of America’s service members, threaten our national security, and impact vital domestic programs and services. Meeting this challenge will require real compromise, and we do not believe that Congress and the president can afford to wait until January to begin to develop a short term or long term sequestration alternative. All ideas should be put on the table and considered. Accordingly, we urge you to press between now and November the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation to score any bipartisan proposals forwarded to them so that Congress may evaluate these plans.

We believe it is important to send a strong signal of our bipartisan determination to avoid or delay sequestration and the resulting major damage to our national security, vital domestic priorities, and our economy.

Carl Levin

John McCain

Jeanne Shaheen

Lindsey Graham

Sheldon Whitehouse

Kelly Ayotte