Sen. John McCain urged President Barack Obama Tuesday to summon lawmakers to the White House to work out a deal to avert deep defense and other spending cuts scheduled to occur automatically on Jan. 2.
Saying there's enough blame to go around in both parties for the sequestration mess that will trigger nearly a trillion dollars in cuts unless Congress can pass a debt reduction measure by Dec. 31, McCain said the president still has "the responsibility" as commander in chief to take the leadership role in resolving the problem.
"We need the president of the United States to call us over and say, 'OK, we need to fix this, and how can we do that,'" the Arizona Republican told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren.
McCain said he isn't sure why the president hasn't made that call. "Maybe he's not as concerned as the secretary of defense and the uniformed service chiefs are [about defense cuts]," McCain said.
"I don't know. But I know this, that if he called us over in the face of what's going to happen to our nation's security, then I think all of us would be willing to cut some kind of a deal."
McCain said Americans were right to blame Congress for allowing the automatic cuts, or sequestration trigger, to be put in legislation passed last year after Democrats and Republicans failed to reach an agreement on deficit reduction.
"We have not done what the American people expect us to do," the senator acknowledged.
But he said Congress, with the president's leadership, must act now to head off the "draconian measures that will cut spending by half a trillion dollars on top of already $460 billion cuts, which have already been mandated."
"I support further cuts in defense," McCain added, "but they've got to done with a scalpel and not with a meat axe.
McCain, who was the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, also commented on the increased tensions between Israel and the United States, following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's comments that the United States would not set any deadlines for taking military action against Iran's suspected nuclear development program.
The senator noted that the United States has often had "rocky relationships" with Israel over time. "But I'm not sure there's been rocky relations at a time when there's a threat to Israel as serious as that that Iran's nuclear capability would post to Israel," he said.
McCain said the Obama administration's reluctance to set deadlines or take a stronger stand against Iran creates a "dilemma" for Israel, which believes it has a smaller window for mounting a military strike against Iran's nuclear program than the United States does.
"They have a certain capability, which is not as large as ours," McCain said. "So we can allow the Iranians to go further in their progress towards a nuclear weapon than the Israelis can."
But he said Israel is concerned "they can't depend on us" to attack Iran if its nuclear program progresses beyond the point of Israel's ability to take it out with a limited military action.
Unless the United States sets "red lines," McCain said, Israel could be justified in thinking the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program will "just progress on and on and on."
McCain, however, stopped short of laying out what course of action he would pursue. But he said "it's very clear" from intelligence estimates and international monitoring that the Iranians "are progressing fairly rapidly towards a point where they could assemble a nuclear weapon."
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