A senior House Republican said today Congress almost certainly will find a way this year to void the first year of a decade-spanning Pentagon budget cut, and suggested repealing President Obama's healthcare reform law would pay for the defense deficit.
Texas Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry, the House Armed Services Committee vice chairman, predicted lawmakers will substitute other federal spending cuts for the planned military cuts.
"I do believe Congress will find a way to turn off sequestration ... and substitute other cuts," Thornberry said at an event sponsored by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-area think tank. "I think there is agreement on both sides of the aisle ... that that's the dumbest answer."
At issue is a $500 billion national defense spending reduction spread over 10 years that will begin in 2013 if lawmakers fail this year to pass a broader package with $1.2 trillion in federal cuts. Without such a deal, the defense cuts—and an equal amount of other federal cuts—would be carried out under a process known as sequestration. Defense officials and analyst say if enacted, those cuts would come from wholesale budget reductions rather than specific programs or initiatives. [Special Ops Forces Study to Be Part Spy, Part Gumshoe]
The HASC vice chairman said finding the $50 billion or so to void the first year of the cuts "should be fairly easy," saying the failed congressional debt panel did some work that shows where there is ample "low-hanging fruit" across the federal budget.
Asked by U.S. News & World Report whether pro-defense lawmakers would have to fight the same battle every year to void individual portions of the defense cuts, Thornberry tied it to the presidential race.
"If the election goes like I want it to, we can repeal 'Obamacare,' " the GOP lawmaker said. "That's enough savings and then some" to pay for scaling back the Pentagon cuts, he said.
He was referring to the health care reform law Obama pushed through Congress in 2010, which the Congressional Budget Office has said could cost more than $900 billion.
Many congressional Republican hawks want to cancel out the defense cuts, but Democrats want a broader deficit-reduction package.
House Armed Services Committee Republicans have introduced a bill attacking the first year of the $500 billion planned cut. It would mandate a 10 percent federal workforce reduction. Expected savings would then be used to eliminate the first year of the Pentagon cuts.
Thornberry referenced that bill, and noted other pro-defense Republicans like Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain (Ariz.) are prepping their own legislation.
The Texas lawmaker indicated the toughest part of voiding the 2013 cuts will be finding the right legislative tactic. Can it be a stand-alone bill? What is the proper bill to which a sequestration-voiding measure might be attached?
Leaders in both chambers must sort out those questions, Thornberry said.