Senate Republicans are taking Democratic leaders to task for an impasse that killed a measure to eliminate the controversial enforcement mechanism that imposes automatic spending cuts on the nation's defense budget.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), a member of the Armed Services Committee and an Army veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, accused Democrats of holding his sequestration repeal amendment hostage to gain leverage for increased nondefense spending when budget negotiations come up again in December.
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The measure was one of several controversial amendments to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that failed to receive a vote last week due to a lack of quorum.
A senior Senate staffer blamed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) for coalescing Democrats against voting on sequestration repeal.
"We're losing around a dozen service members a month to faulty equipment or canceled training," the staffer told the Washington Free Beacon on Thursday. "We're in the middle of a military readiness crisis that's killing more Americans than the enemy. And Chuck Schumer is holding them hostage so he can extract more money for what, exactly? The Department of Agriculture? What's most appalling is that Democrats went along with it."
Top Pentagon officials have warned Congress for years the 2011 Budget Control Act, which imposes automatic caps on military spending, would prompt a readiness crisis across the five services. Adm. John Richardson, chief of Naval operations, testified on Tuesday that budget cuts caused by sequestration and continuing resolutions contributed to the deaths of 17 sailors this summer.
Lifting the budget caps requires 60 votes in the Senate rather than a simple majority, necessitating support from Democrats.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, acknowledged in an interview with Defense News last week the caps provide Democrats with leverage to force GOP leaders to match increases between defense and nondefense spending. Leahy said repealing sequestration "would take away any incentive to have some balance between domestic and military spending."
Some on the left, including Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the Senate's No. 2. Democrat, said they opposed Cotton's measure because it leaves in place caps on mandatory spending programs.
Cotton rejected the justification as a "pretext," noting that Democrats have voted to extend sequestration on mandatory spending through 2025.
"The automatic sequester consists of a small, almost trivial amount of cuts. And it wouldn't have affected one penny, not one penny from Social Security or Medicare or veterans' benefits," Cotton said in a floor speech Monday.
"Every one of those Democrats who sit on the Armed Services Committee and have claimed to want to stop these automatic spending cuts can go home and tell the men and women in uniform in their states that they had a chance to vote on it and they were too cowardly even to put their name on the rolls."