Armed Service committee Republicans in both the House and Senate scheduled a Capitol press conference Wednesday to promote legislation to pay down the sequester — deep, across the board cuts to defense and domestic spending — through September without raising any tax revenue. But the assembled members unintentionally revealed a tension just beneath the surface of GOP unity that might ultimately crack the party’s anti-tax absolutism once again.
Several of the members — all party principles on defense issues — described the consequences of sequestration in apocalyptic terms.
“If it’s implemented it’ll cut every ship, aircraft, tank, truck program, research and development across the board,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who until recently was the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services committee. “According to one economic analysis the cost — would cause the loss of 350,000 full time direct jobs, and 650,000 indirect job losses.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) depicted sequestration as a gift to U.S. foes. “Our enemies would love this to happen,” he said. “I’m sure Iran is very supportive of sequestration. I’m sure Al Qaeda training camps all over the world would be pleased with the fact that sequestration will gut the CIA.”
This raises an obvious question. If the consequences of sequestration are dire — if they might even result in the deaths of innocent people — isn’t it worth sitting down and negotiating with Democrats, who say they’re done hacking away at domestic social programs simply because Republicans refuse to increase revenues?
Here’s how Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the top armed services Republican, responded. The terrible consequences of sequestration, he said, are “not desperate enough that you can start raising taxes when you can do it without raising taxes.”
That argument exposes the GOP’s bluff. If the consequences will be as dire as Graham et al claim, then of course it’s worth considering paying down sequestration with some new tax revenues. By contrast if the situation isn’t desperate enough to make Republicans consider higher revenues, then how can they claim it will be a boon to the country’s enemies. If both things are true then the GOP position amounts to prioritizing emboldening Iran and al Qaeda over modestly raising taxes on wealthy Americans.
The plan the Republicans are proposing would freeze congressional pay and reduce the federal workforce by attrition to pay down the sequester through the end of the fiscal year.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.