Momentum to Stop Defense Cuts Mounts

Momentum to Stop Defense Cuts Mounts

Republicans will act this spring to stop mandatory defense cuts—and the White House may be behind them.

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At a press briefing this morning, House Speaker John Boehner made it official: Republicans in the lower chamber will advance a bill this year to undo automatic defense cuts that were a result of the super-committee’s failure to agree on a deficit reduction plan.

If the supercommittee had not failed, there would only be one spending cap on all discretionary spending until 2021—meaning that Congress could theoretically take all the money from domestic programs and leave the Pentagon untouched in order to stay under it. But as an incentive to get Republicans on the committee to work seriously towards a deal, failure meant a separate cap for defense spending—which guarantees steep reductions.

TPM’s Brian Beutler quotes Boehner this morning pledging to undo that defense spending cap and citing presumed support from the White House:

“We should never have had the sequester. I always thought that the Super Committee had a real chance to do good work, to produce savings so that the sequester wouldn’t kick in. I think that the sequester will hurt our Department of Defense, will hurt our ability to do what Americans believe is our most basic responsibility, and that’s to provide security for the American people. I believe that Secretary Panetta believes the same thing. And for that matter, I think the White House believes that the sequester is totally unacceptable. That’s why the House will act this spring to replace that [defense] sequester.”

The reason Boehner thinks the White House is behind getting rid of the defense sequester, I have to assume, is because the White House budget advocates getting rid of the defense sequester. As we noted last month, Obama’s budget proposes a single discretionary spending cap in 2014—that is, it proposes eliminating the separate cap for defense—and even in 2013, the administration proposes around $5 billion in spending above the defense cap, and $5 billion in spending below the nondefense cap.

Republicans are seeking to back away from the debt-ceiling deal in a number of ways—Representative Paul Ryan’s budget plan comes in below the caps—and as Beutler notes, the White House is “lambasting” the GOP for backing out. That’s going to be a tougher argument to make if the administration, too, is serious about junking the defense sequester.

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