Pentagon Budget Emerges as Key Chip in Debt Talks

Hawkish Republican urges tax hikes to avoid military cuts, but the White House pushes broader debt deal.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C.

The White House and a top Senate Republican signaled in recent days that the Pentagon's budget will be a bargaining chip for both parties as they seek to avoid a fiscal meltdown later this year.

 The posturing began when Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told the New York Times he has "crossed the Rubicon" on the GOP stance that any federal debt deal exclude higher taxes.

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The Defense Department is planning a $450 billion reduction to proposed spending over the next decade, and could be forced to take out close to $500 billion more over the same span if Congress fails to pass a $1.2 trillion debt-paring deal this year.

Graham and other hawkish congressional Republicans--joined by President Obama's hand-picked Pentagon leadership team--are worried that second batch of cuts will substantially erode America's military might.

Asked Monday about Graham's shift, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters the administration would not "cheer" such individual GOP defections on raising taxes to avoid national defense and other federal cuts.

Carney called the contents of a plan to achieve the $1.2 trillion in needed savings "apparent," urging congressional Democrats and Republicans to make "tough choices."

"It's not that complicated," Carney said. "It just takes political will."

Carney reiterated that Obama also opposes the second batch of Pentagon cuts, which the defense industry says could trigger the elimination of one million jobs. A major sticking point, so far, to avoiding them is the amount of revenue the federal government will be able to raise.

The White House, along with many senior congressional Democrats, support a debt-paring plan that would raise taxes on the highest-earning Americans while also cutting federal spending. Most Republican members remain opposed to any tax hikes as part of a deal.

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter.

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