Republican Sen. John McCain is slamming President Obama for failing to craft a plan that would steer the military away from additional spending cuts the Pentagon says would trigger a "doomsday" scenario. But it was a congressional failure that plotted the course for the next batch of cuts, Obama's defense appointees say.
Congress and the White House struck a debt-reduction deal in August that included $350 billion in Pentagon cuts over a decade, reductions defense leaders say can be made with modest risk.
But when a congressional panel failed to reach a $1.2 trillion debt deal months later, it set military and domestic spending on course for additional twin $500 billion cuts.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would create the "doomsday" of a "hollow force." McCain said his GOP colleagues feel the White House is failing the military by offering no road map around the additional military cuts.
"Domestic politics is taking priority over our national security, with the president saying he would veto an effort by Congress to eliminate sequestration that does not include raising taxes," McCain said during a Tuesday Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. McCain is the top Republican on the panel. President Obama has said he would veto any legislation that attempts to void the additional military or domestic cuts without proposing ways to account for the same amount in deficit-reduction.
In a joint statement with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, McCain called out the Obama administration on its cuts.
"It is clear that neither the Defense Department, nor the Obama administration, have made any serious plans to avoid the additional defense cuts," McCain and Graham said. "Every military and civilian defense official has said these draconian cuts represent a threat to our national security, and must not occur."
Panetta and other senior Pentagon officials counter such claims by pointing out two things: The $350 billion cut came from the last-minute debt-paring law Congress approved in August; and lawmakers can remove the threat of the additional $500 billion national defense cut by reaching a $1.2 trillion debt-reduction accord by the end of this year.
McCain is part of Senate group that has unveiled a plan to void the additional cuts with other spending reductions; a similar bill has been rolled out in the House. But Gordon Adams, who oversaw national defense budgeting during the Clinton era, says McCain and others are wasting their collective breath.
"It's a big question whether McCain and company will get any traction from congressional leaders with their bill even if Mitt Romney or the eventual [GOP presidential] nominee picks it up and makes it a campaign issue," Adams said. "Everyone is going to wait until after the election to do anything about these additional cuts—they're just tilting at windmills right now."
"The McCains of the world are tone deaf to the politics at play," Adams said. "They are not driving the train" on Capitol Hill, he said, noting House and Senate leaders will continue to make the key decisions on which deficit- and budget-themed bills are acted upon.