Senate GOP Deeply Divided on Cuts To Military

Some of the Senate’s most committed hawks are parting company over the debt deal’s prospects for broad defense cuts if Congress gridlocks on entitlement or tax reform.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is supporting the debt deal despite its potential for severe defense cuts while his usually likeminded colleague, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says he’s a solid no in large part because of the threatened reductions in military spending.“I cannot in good conscience support this deal,” Graham said in a statement Monday. “Simply stated, it locks us into more debt, bigger government and most devastating of all, a weakened defense infrastructure at a time when we face growing threats.”

The entire South Carolina delegation, led by Tea Party darling Sen. Jim DeMint, is opposing the deal, likely making it incredibly difficult for Graham to go his own way.

McCain, for instance, said he has real concerns about the potential for debilitating military cuts, but supports the deal because it prevents the country from defaulting and hands the thorny tasks of overhauling entitlement programs and the tax system to a bipartisan committee.

But the defense cuts, along with reductions to domestic programs, would only come if Congress fails to act on entitlement and tax reform, and McCain said he trusts the committee to come up with compromises that can pass the House and Senate.

If not, McCain promised to be “the first person to go to the Senate floor and advocate on behalf of forging a compromise and sparing defense spending.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee, is not convinced she will vote for the debt deal in large part because of the trigger’s impact on defense spending.

“My concern is the defense budget would bare the brunt of the cuts, and I want to avoid the hollowed out military that we saw after Vietnam,” she said.

When Collins pressed her leadership about which national security programs would be subject to spending reductions, she was told that it wouldn’t just be Pentagon initiatives but could include Homeland Security funds as well.

“That was a real concern to me…I mean, are we going to cut border control agents — where are these cuts going to come from?” she told reporters.

Of course, the defense spending cuts are only hypothetical, and something, along with cuts to Medicare providers and other domestic programs, both Republicans and Democrats want to avoid. Most of the projected savings from this plan will come from a new bipartisan Congressional committee tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, either from entitlement cuts, or tax increases or both.

If that committee gridlocks, or Congress doesn’t pass its recommendations, or President Obama vetoes that package, it will trigger automatic, broad cuts to both defense and domestic programs. Most of that will come from defense spending and from Medicare providers.