GUAM – Powerful Republicans in Congress want to reconfigure sequester budget cuts to defense that have become all but imminent since last week’s failure by the super committee to produce a deficit reduction plan.
On Sunday, Republican Senator Pat Toomey, a member of the failed super committee, said that defense hawk Republicans will now seek to “change the configuration” of the automatic spending cuts to avoid indiscriminate slashing to national defense.
“I think it’s important that we change the configuration [of the cuts].” Mr. Toomey said in an interview with ABC’s Christian Amanpour. “I think there’s a broad consensus that too much of the cuts are weighted on [our national defense].”
Stalemate over how to reduce the deficit, and the related indecision over the magnitude and nature of Pentagon streamlining, have prevented the Navy from proceeding with nearly $2 billion in already appropriated U.S. and Japan funds for military construction projects on Guam. The Guam military buildup, expected to cost at least $17.4 billion, is meant to prepare the island to host thousands of Marines being transferred from Okinawa as part of a massive troop realignment agreement with Japan.
Another $155 million in Guam military buildup appropriations are part of a 12-bill spending package that make up the federal government’s fiscal year 2012 budget. However, even while Congress is nearly two months overdue to pass that spending package, the issue has taken a back seat to the bigger debate over long-term deficit reduction and the threat of sequestration.
If Congress cannot rebound from the super committee’s failed negotiations to yet approve a deficit reduction plan before this January, about $500 billion in additional defense cuts will be taken without the discretion of the Pentagon. That’s because the sequester mechanism built into the Budget Control Act that created the super committee calls for level cuts to all programs across-the-board for 10 years from fiscal year 2013.
Citing the Pentagon assessment that indiscriminate cuts would endanger national security, Republican defense hawks are rallying to find a way around the sequester.
Last week, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), vowed to eliminate the sequester cuts, saying he’ll soon introduce a bill to repeal them.
“I will not be the Armed Services chairman who presides over crippling our military,” he said just before the super committee admitted defeat last Monday in Washington.
While Republicans focus on changing the makeup of the sequester or repealing it altogether, President Obama has promised to veto any attempt to undo it. Along with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who said “Congress cannot simply turn off the sequester mechanism,” the President wants use the threat of sequestration to force lawmakers to pass a balanced plan for deficit reduction before January.
“There will be no easy off-ramps on this one,” Mr. Obama said. “We need to keep the pressure up [on Congress] to compromise, not turn off the pressure.”
Even as Mr. Obama and Mr. Panetta remain far apart from the Republican-controlled House on how to achieve deficit reduction, they do agree on the importance of the U.S.-Japan military realignment pact, and they continue to press the defiant Senate not to cut Guam buildup funding from this year’s budget.
Without a deficit deal before January, however, Guam can expect its military buildup to be overshadowed by a yearlong battle in Washington – complicated by a presidential election next November – over how to reform defense and domestic spending.
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