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Sequestration Schadenfreude

During the debt-ceiling negotiations last summer, the GOP could have put new tax revenues on the table and thereby avoided putting their beloved Pentagon at risk of losing less than ten percent of its yearly budget. To their credit they didn’t, and unless Congress acts the cuts will take effect next year. Yet since both sides claim to have agreed to something that they don’t actually support it’s relatively easy to deflect blame. There’s also more pressure to assign it as the cuts would fall hardest on swing states like North Carolina, Florida, and especially Virginia.

A group of senators including John McCain, who himself voted for the sequester, Lindsay Graham, who is now open to the possibility of raising taxes to avert defense cuts, and Kelly Ayotte are now tromping through those very states to sound the alarm that the sky is falling and it’s all Obama’s fault. Here’s McCain in Florida warning people about the “draconian” cuts he voted for:

“These cuts — which I would just call downright draconian — are set to affect close to $3.6 billion in the state of Florida alone…We’re looking at $1 trillion in cuts to national defense. That is unacceptable…If we allow these to go through and the budget is slashed, it will have a devastating impact on our children and grandchildren.” (Time)

And Graham in Tampa:

“MacDill Air Force Base is toast if this goes through.” (CL Tampa Bay)

When one asks if there are legitimate spending cuts to be made in the defense budget, they reply that military experts have advised them that sequestration would be arbitrary and disastrous. Disastrous not only for lucrative hardware and R&D contracts, but for average military and civilian personnel as well. This morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Senator Tom Coburn blew the lid on that fallacy:

“I can find the fat in the Pentagon. They’re just not willing to do it. And they don’t believe it’s there. I believe it’s there. I’ve actually studied it.” “The point is they’re worried we will cut into the actual real thing that will keep us defended, and I understand that concern,” he continued. “Plus, sequestration is stupid; you’re cutting good programs the same as you’re cutting bad.”

And what could be a better example of a bad program than the F-35 project, one which even McCain has routinely criticized as a white elephant? One hopes he remains as vocal in his skepticism toward the program as he was before the anti-sequestration tour. If not, one might wonder if the former Lockheed Martin staffer he recently hired might have helped change his mind. Democratic operatives are also working to minimize the political fallout from sequestered defense cuts. Tim Kaine, running in a tough open seat senate race in Virginia against George Allen, offered one of the more convincing explanations of what sequestration is all about:

“All the concern about sequestration falls on that we may lose private defense jobs,” Kaine said. “There are going to be all kinds of cuts affecting public employees for a couple of years and nobody’s gotten out of line about it. A job loss is a job loss.” (Washington Post)

Kaine’s remarks reinforce the idea that the sequester cuts would fall largely on private defense companies rather than, say, benefits for military personnel. This explains Lockheed Martin’s threat to send out hundreds of thousands of legally unnecessary memos to employees days before the presidential election warning that their jobs are in jeopardy (some dispute whether the memos are necessary, but at any rate it’s clear that Lockheed Martin has a good political reason to push them out, regardless of the law or their coordination with McCain’s campaign-style jobs tour).

Republicans helped make this bed, and it looks like they’re going to have to lie in it. The ringleaders of the sequester roadshow can at least take some solace in Mitt Romney’s promise to increase the defense budget should he be elected. But for conservatives, if sequestration means Republicans are forced to stick to their own supposed fiscal responsibility at the expense of their favorite jobs program, what’s not to like? Besides, as Will Saletan points out, defense cuts are increasingly popular, a fact the Obama campaign has not failed to notice (at :14):

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