Partisan Dems, GOP can only agree defense cuts bad

WASHINGTON (AP) — The only thing a bitterly partisan Congress can agree on as it heads for the exits is that looming defense cuts will have a devastating effect on the military.

No resolution emerged Thursday to avert $55 billion in cuts to a defense budget of roughly $600 billion, beginning Jan. 2. A House Armed Services hearing with the Pentagon comptroller and the services’ vice chiefs devolved into finger-pointing between Republicans and Democrats.

Republicans blamed President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate. Democrats argued the GOP must be willing to consider tax increases.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, summed up the frustration as one of the least productive and least popular Congresses in history breaks for the Nov. 6 election and an eight-week recess with a long list of work undone.

“Even though I didn’t vote for this idiotic, stupid law, I accept responsibility as part of the Congress, and I think it’s up to us to find the solution. However we do that, we better do it fast,” he said.

As it turns out, the blunt-talking Reyes is one of 11 lawmakers who lost in a primary and will be leaving Congress.

The Republican-led committee dragged comptroller Robert Hale and the military leaders to Capitol Hill to describe the impact of the automatic, across-the-board cuts, which will occur if Congress fails to come up with a deficit-cutting plan that Obama can sign into law.

The $110 billion reductions to defense and domestic programs, combined with the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts at the end of the year, have been called the “fiscal cliff.” Budget analysts warn the combination could send the economy back into a recession.

The across-the-board cuts were devised as part of last summer’s budget and debt deal between Obama and congressional Republicans. They were intended to drive a budget supercommittee — evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans — to strike a compromise. But the panel deadlocked, and only recriminations have emerged.

Hale echoed previous testimony from administration officials about the specific impact — less training for warfighters heading to Afghanistan, fewer ships and aircraft and possible furloughs for the military’s civilian employees.

“We would have fewer options to respond quickly to emerging crises,” Hale warned. “Inevitably, this will require changes to the national security strategy that was put into effect last January and which we think remains the right one for the times.”

The panel’s chairman, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., painted an even more dire picture.

“As far as I’m concerned, the Defense Department shuts down January 2,” he said.

The expectation in Washington is that the election will break the logjam, and Congress and the administration will work out a solution in a jam-packed lame-duck session. The remarks from Republicans and Democrats suggest they have miles to go toward reaching any agreement.

Several Republicans and Democrats said it was a mistake for Congress to leave Washington without resolving an issue the military leaders had made clear is undermining morale and would undercut national security.

And yet lawmakers are expected to head home by week’s end.

“I think it’s an interesting contradiction that this hearing has set forth chapter and verse about the urgency of this problem, and the response of this institution is to leave town for six weeks,” said Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J.

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