This announcement is as predictable as it is necessary. House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon is stepping up to try to avert the looming defense budget disaster:
“I will be introducing legislation in the coming days to prevent cuts that will do catastrophic damage to our men and women in uniform and our national security. Our military has already contributed nearly half a trillion to deficit reduction. Those who have given us so much, have nothing more to give.
“Secretary Panetta has said he doesn’t want to be the secretary who hollows out defense. Likewise, I will not be the Armed Services chairman who presides over crippling our military. I will not let these sequestration cuts stand.”
Right now it’s still not clear whether McKeon’s legislation will block all of the across-the-board cuts or seek a compromise that leaves some reductions in place, while making sure they don’t impact specific programs. The committee is looking at several options, and won’t be announcing the details for a few days.
But whatever the final legislation looks like, this will not be an easy fight. The triggered cuts don’t go into effect until 2013, but the Department of Defense’s budget proposal for that year will need to be submitted by February, 2012 – which means there’s only a small window of time to work with.
“It’s wrong to claim that sequestration’s defense cuts aren’t a ‘reality’ and will be easily nullified,” Robert Zarate, the policy director at Foreign Policy Initiative, told me. “Until Congress actually changes the law—a process that could end up being much more difficult and much more politicized than people assume—sequestration cuts are still the law of the land.”
That’s because it’s politically tricky for House Republican leadership, which said it would respect the sequestration process, to now turn around and support efforts to block it. And even if they do, they’ll almost certainly have to find other areas of the budget to cut in exchange for defense – and that proposal would have enough bipartisan support to get through Congress.