‘Can we talk?’ GOP pushes Obama to try to avoid cuts

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY DONNA CAS­SATA

Repub­li­cans pleaded with Pres­i­dent Obama on Thurs­day to ne­go­ti­ate with Congress to avert au­to­matic, across-the-board mil­i­tary cuts that De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta has warned would be dev­as­tat­ing.

The re­duc­tions — $50 bil­lion in the first year and $492 bil­lion over a decade — won’t kick in un­til Jan­uary 2013, but law­mak­ers ar­gued that Congress and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion can’t wait months to deal with the is­sue and leave it to a lame-duck ses­sion in De­cem­ber. Jobs are at stake as well as long-term Pen­tagon con­tracts, they said.

“Please can we sit down with the pres­i­dent,” Sen. John Mccain, the top Re­pub­li­can on the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, told re­porters at a news con­fer­ence, “for the sake of the na­tion’s de­fense.”

But while Mr. Mccain and six other Repub­li­cans ratch­eted up the po­lit­i­cal pres­sure on the pres­i­dent and con­gres­sional Democrats, the Ari­zona law­maker also ac­knowl­edged that the ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans were re­spon­si­ble for set­ting the cuts in mo­tion.

The bud­get agree­ment reached in Au­gust calls for de­fense cuts of $487 bil­lion over a decade, a re­flec­tion of the draw­down of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the pres­sure to re­duce the na­tion’s deficit. But the fail­ure of Congress’ so-called “su­per­com­mit­tee” to come up with at least $1.2 tril­lion in sav­ings means au­to­matic cuts of more than $1 tril­lion next Jan­uary to de­fense and do­mes­tic pro­grams.

“The blame is there,” Mr. Mccain said. “So the re­spon­si­bil­ity is there.”

Said Sen. Kelly Ay­otte, New Hamp­shire Re­pub­li­can: “Work it out now.”

Sev­eral Se­nate Repub­li­cans have pro­posed re­duc­ing the size of the fed­eral work­force by 5 per­cent over 10 years and freez­ing fed­eral pay to off­set one year of the cuts. That pro­posal, how­ever, has no Demo­cratic sup­port. Mr. Panetta has said the au­to­matic cuts would be like tak­ing a meat ax to the Pen­tagon bud­get. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has urged law­mak­ers to re­visit the failed at­tempt by the su­per­com­mit­tee to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 tril­lion,

Af­ter bud­gets nearly dou­bled over a decade, the Pen­tagon is look­ing at tighter spend­ing for next year — $525.4 bil­lion in base spend­ing and an­other $88.5 bil­lion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The to­tal is nearly $32 bil­lion less than this year’s bud­get.

Law­mak­ers also com­plained Thurs­day that as the Pen­tagon works to rein in spend­ing, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter pro­gram con­tin­ues to ex­ceed ex­pected costs.

Frank Ken­dall III, who has been nom­i­nated to be un­der­sec­re­tary of de­fense for ac­qui­si­tion, told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that the pro­gram is about $150 bil­lion over bud­get, but of­fi­cials are try­ing to min­i­mize ad­di­tional over­runs in the fu­ture. He said there will con­tinue to be cost ad­just­ments as the test pro­gram goes on.

Pen­tagon press sec­re­tary Ge­orge Lit­tle said the to­tal cost of the F-35 is ex­pected to be about $1.45 tril­lion over the life of the pro­gram. He said last’s year’s es­ti­mate was about $1 tril­lion, but that to­tal did not in­clude some of the costs that are be­ing in­cluded in the lat­est es­ti­mate.


Sen. John Mccain says there’s blame to share as he pushes for Pres­i­dent Obama to meet with Congress to try to avert au­to­matic de­fense bud­get cuts.

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