Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham charged in an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV Thursday that billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts scheduled to begin hitting the Defense Department next year under the so-called sequestration mechanism will lead to an “inability to defend the nation” from its enemies.
“Those cuts, in the words of the secretary of defense and all our uniformed leaders, would jeopardize our national security. In fact, Secretary [of Defense Leon] Panetta said it would be devastating,” said McCain on Thursday in a joint interview with Graham “to warn the country of the devastating effects of this sequestration and, literally, our inability to defend the nation.”
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Half of the nearly $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over the next decade under sequestration would strike the Defense Department, resulting in the smallest Air Force in the history of the United States, the smallest Navy since 1940, and the smallest Army since 1915.
“How do you go to the Pacific to deal with China? How do you move around and keep the sea lanes open?” asked Graham, who is making a series of appearances with McCain to bring attention to the issue.
“It would be, in the words of Leon Panetta, a brigade without bullets, a Navy without ships, an Air Force without training pilots," Graham added. "It would be like shooting yourself in the head. It would be the most destructive thing in the world and it’s going to happen come January — unless Republicans and Democrats can find a substitute.”
The spending cuts were approved by both Republicans and Democrats as part of the last-minute 2011 agreement to raise the U.S. debt limit.
Lawmakers envisioned them as a sort of legislative last resort — to be triggered only if Congress was unable to find other deficit-reduction proposals to replace them. That job was handed over to the so-called super committee, which subsequently failed in its mission late last year.
“This is the dumbest idea that Congress has come up with — and we’re known for doing dumb things,” acknowledged Graham of South Carolina. “The idea that if a bunch of politicians fail to do their job well and correctly, that you’re going to destroy the military and fire a bunch of soldiers. Fire the politicians, keep the soldiers.”
Lawmakers also have yet to decide what to do about income tax cuts and other tax breaks scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
Leaders in both chambers have been discussing whether to propose a catch-all bill that would delay the automatic cuts, fund the government through March or later and temporarily extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts and other tax laws.
For the military, sequestration would mean a total of $1 trillion cuts over the next decade. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimated in a recent report that sequestration would result in the loss of about 1 million jobs in 2013 and 2014 and a one-half percent cut to America’s already meager economic growth.
Graham called on “anybody and everybody with a media outlet to let America know that this construct we came up with . . . is going to be a death blow to the United States military at a time we need it the most.”
As the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain insisted that sequestration in hindsight was a “terrible mistake” that should never have been included in the debt limit agreement.
“Now we’re facing, on the first of January, cuts in defense on top of already $480 billion, around $500 billion,” said the Arizona senator, who blames lawmakers from both parties, but especially President Barack Obama for sitting by as the nation’s defense is threatened.
“We will take the blame for it, but there’s only one commander in chief. And that commander in chief right now is sitting on the sidelines watching this doomsday scenario unfold,” snapped McCain, who believes that politicians will “fold like a cheap cigar” given sufficient public pressure. “This cries out for presidential leadership and this president, in my view, is not exercising one shred of it.”
Both McCain and Graham fear the message such drastic defense cuts will send to nations such as Iran, “a country that’s on the path to developing nuclear weapons,” McCain explained. “What lesson do the Chinese take from this, who are becoming more and more assertive? What lesson do the forces of al-Qaida around the world take from this? I think it’s all the wrong lesson.”
For starters, Graham charged that the initial cuts in 2013 will affect long-term planning within the Pentagon. “You’re talking about 1.1 million jobs, a percent and a half increase in the unemployment rate,” he said, while noting that the Defense Department should not be viewed as a jobs factory.
“It’s a place to equip the men and women who do the fighting with the best weapons available,” he said. “I’m not looking for a fair fight . . . I don’t want to go into a battle where it’s a fair fight. I want to go in with overwhelming capability. We’re going to lose that capability if we do not do something before the election and we’re going to put in jeopardy the finest fighting force known to the world because politicians can’t get their act together over controlling spending.”
While acknowledging that Republicans will not raise taxes to reduce the nation’s $16 trillion deficit, the senators called on the president and every member of Congress to address the issue before the November election — at least one year.
“It’s not like we won’t give. We’re not going to raise tax rates to fix America’s problems. We’re in a recession; that will kill us,” conceded Graham. “But I am willing to close some loopholes and deductions, tax earmarks for a favored few at the expense of the many, to help save the military. We’re willing to be reasonable.”
Unfortunately most Americans are focused on the difficult economy and may not be paying attention, adds McCain.
“We understand that their priorities are very understandably jobs and the economy, but I think Americans are the most patriotic people ever to grace this earth and I believe the American people, when informed of the gravity of this situation, will demand that the president and the Congress act,” he said.
Graham was even more direct. “If you don’t speak up for the men and women in uniform — you the listener who cares about the direction of the country enough to follow these type of programs — who will?”
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