In a sudden reversal, key hawkish congressional Republicans say they would be open to raising new revenues to stave off more Pentagon funding cuts.
Pro-military Republicans have vociferously opposed Democrats' contention that a deal to lower the federal deficit by over $1 trillion has to include tax increases to swell Washington's coffers for paying down its massive debt. The GOP even balked for months at the notion of new revenues to avoid a new round of national defense spending cuts, arguing deep cuts to domestic entitlement programs should be targeted to keep Pentagon funding at current levels.
But time is running out to avoid $500 billion in separate budget reductions to defense and domestic entitlement budgets that would kick in Jan. 1, unless Congress passes a broad debt-reduction package that would reduce the federal debt by $1.2 trillion. Washington insiders and congressional sources say several groups of lawmakers have begun meeting behind closed doors in an attempt to cobble together plans to avoid both defense and domestic cuts. And the hawkish GOP members clearly hear that clock ticking.
"I'll consider anything," California Rep. and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon told reporters this week.
McKeon did not endorse raising federal taxes, instead suggesting previous plans put forth by House GOP members that would close some tax loopholes. Doing that would bring in additional funds that could be applied to the nation's debt.
The first prominent GOP hawk to break with his party's revenue line was South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Shortly after McKeon met with reporters, Arizona Sen. John McCain, a close ally of Graham, told a conference in Washington that new revenues "could serve as a blueprint for further action," according to reports.
Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes, also a House Armed Services Committee member, said this week that everything must be on the table to avoid deep cuts to planned Pentagon spending.
The collective reversal made some longtime Washington budget veterans wonder whether the prospects for a so-called "grand bargain" to achieve the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts are improving. Gordon Adams, who ran national defense budgeting during the Clinton administration, says the McKeon-McCain-Forbes shift "means they've been coordinating their talking points--and where there's smoke..."
John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.