WASHINGTON — 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 that 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 that 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.