As Think Progress reported this Monday morning, Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte are out there raising fears about the pending cuts to the military budget which are coming as part of the sequestration plan passed by Congress during the debt ceiling debacle, but they had some trouble making a legitimate case on CNN as to just how those cuts would be "devastating."
In their current campaign against automatic military spending cuts, Republican Senators John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Kelly Ayotte (NH) claim the reductions will be “devastating” to the U.S. military. But when asked to provide specifics on that claim on CNN this morning, McCain came up empty: [...]
Panetta does repeatedly say the military spending sequester would be “devastating” to the U.S. military but he has also failed to explain why. Panetta’s most specific remark on this point has been to say that the U.S. would have to reduce its presence in Latin America and Africa — i.e. hardly a “devastating” blow to the military or U.S. security. Moreover, a recent non-partisan Congressional Budget Office report found that the automatic spending cuts would bring the Pentagon’s budget back to what it spent in 2006.
As for McCain’s jobs argument, defense industry CEOs and other experts have said warnings that the military spending cuts will damage the economy and cause massive layoffs are “overblown.” And if you’re going to argue that federal spending is necessary to create jobs — a concept Republicans are now embracing in order to protect the nation’s bloated military budget — it’s probably better to, as one study has found, try to direct those dollars away from the Pentagon toward other domestic priorities.
Neither of them did a good job of explaining why we need a military budget, as O'Brien pointed out, five to eleven times larger than China, Russia or Britain. And McCain just completely brushed off the fact that his party is protecting the wealthy by refusing to raise taxes on the richest among us. And sadly neither of them were really challenged on any of their assertions by O'Brien. Another softball interview where politicians are allowed to spew their talking points unchallenged from CNN. It doesn't do much good to ask the right questions and then refuse to do any follow up when those questions aren't answered or answered with lies.
Transcript via CNN below the fold.
O'BRIEN: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has warned cuts to defense could be disastrous for the military. Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are both Romney supporters and both members of the Armed Services Committee.
And they're with me this morning. It's nice to see you both. Thanks for being with me. Senator McCain, let's start with you, if we can. The $500 billion cut over the next 10 years. You've had said that sequestration would be devastating. Give me a list of why?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZONA: Well, first of all, it's on top of another $460 billion that is already being cut. Second of all, it's the view of Secretary Panetta and our uniform leaders who have used words like devastating, impossible to carry out our national security, challenge -- meet those security challenges in the most graphic terms they have used as to the effects of these cuts.
And not to mention the job losses -- the over a million jobs that would be lost and the billions of dollars also in defense industry so it's a very serious situation.
Congress should sit down, Republicans and Democrats and work this out but we also need the president's leadership to call us together and avoid these cuts, which again Secretary Panetta said would be devastating to national dense.
O'BRIEN: When we look at the details of the military budget, $711 billion in 2011, five times the size of China's, almost ten times the size of Russia and 11 times the size of Britain and 11 times the size of France's.
Could you look at those numbers and say, Senator Ayotte, the U.S. is at a line in terms of spending when you compare it to other countries and especially if we're talking about there's going to be no tax increase to help pay for it, you have to cut somewhere and this is what was agreed to?
SENATOR KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, actually, I want to put this in perspective. First of all, what we're spending on defense right now, it's about 4.7 percent of our GDP. It's actually a historical low given the conflicts we've been involved in.
If you look over the history of the nation and also if we took all the defense spending including the war spending, we wouldn't even get barely half of the deficits we've been running over the last several years.
So defense spending can't address all of our debt and it's important for you to think about, Soledad, just in terms of making sure that are country is safe. There still remain very many threats out there and also hollowing out our force.
We have to keep faith with our military, those who have served. These cuts based on what our army chief have said we have to cut the army an additional $100,000.
Our Marine Corps, a assistant commandant in the Marine Corps has said that the Marine Corps would be unable to fully respond to one major contingency. This is very serious in terms of our national security.
O'BRIEN: So then Senator McCain, where would you cut? I mean, let's say this number is a real number and obviously, this is what the debate was all about and everybody kicked the can down a little bit of way.
And now you're paying the piper if I can keep throwing in these phrases, but I think this is fair to say. You have to lose some money from the budget. Where are you going to cut if you don't take it out of defense? What would you recommend goes for $500 billion?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, when you look at increase in overall spending, obviously we could restrain that. I think as I mentioned, we've already cut $460 billion from the defense budget.
And I would point out that if we sat down together, we could look at loophole closing and spending cuts and look at freezes. We could look at all kinds of things.
This "Super Committee" came close to an agreement, but we have to have everything on the table and yet our first and foremost responsibility and the president's first and foremost responsibility is commander in chief.
So making sure that our nation is secure from a defense national security standpoint is the first priority. I don't think most people would argue with that.
AYOTTE: And Soledad, I want to put it in perspective, we could address both the dense and nondefense savings from sequestration by living within our means for one month in this government.
It's about one month of borrowing. So we can find those savings across the government and do this in a more responsibility way and still address the deficit reduction.
O'BRIEN: Well, but Republicans at the same time don't want to cut taxes on the wealthy. We know that's a debate also heading towards the fiscal cliff.
It seems like everybody wants to get to a number, but no one is willing to cut the thing that is important to them. I think that's fair to say. No one wants to raise taxes on people they feel would support them politically.
I think that's fair to say. It seems like tough choices have to be made. I thought the whole entire Budget Control Act, which Senator Ayotte, you voted against, but Senator McCain, you voted for was to determine this very thing.
Now it's come to the moment of fruition and it seems like you're changing your mind, sir.
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I disagree with every one of your fundamentals here. The fact is that the president himself said raising taxes in difficult times on anybody is a terrible idea. He said that himself.
If you think obviously you may, but raising taxes on quote, "the wealthy" is the answer then we have a fundamental disagreement. We are glad to look at loophole closings. We'll look at ways for example selling off federal land, which could raise billions of dollars.
But obviously, I do not accept the premise of your statement. I believe when raising taxes on anybody as the president once said would be a terrible idea, particularly when we see that the economy continues to weaken rather than strength.
AYOTTE: And also Soledad, to put it in perspective, here we've already cut nearly a half trillion dollars from the Department of Defense. We're not saying the defense can't take savings, but this is disproportionate.
It's 19 percent of federal spending is taking 50 percent of cuts and it's a fundamental responsibility we have to the American people. Listen, I take Secretary of Defense Panetta at his word that this is going to be devastating. It seems to me we need to act on it.
O'BRIEN: You're going to be hosting town halls to have this kind of conversation. I think some people would say, why not -- maybe the question is, what's the strategy beyond the town halls?
Because really at the end of the day, it's not about the American people coming together to discuss this, right? It really is about Congress sitting down and doing what they were trying to do not so long ago, which is to come to a decision on where cuts can be made jointly in a bipartisan fashion to get something done.
MCCAIN: You're exactly right and hopefully by what we're doing and this program and many others in these states that were so important, for example, 41,000 jobs here in the state of Florida, that that will have -- make people motivate the members of Congress and the president of the United States, the commander in chief to sit down and prevent what every uniformed leader in the secretary of defense said would be devastating to America.
AYOTTE: And also think about it in terms of jobs, 136,000 defense jobs in Virginia. They have to issue layoff notices before the election so members of Congress need to come together on this.
And I think more the American people know about this the more they'll urge their member of Congress to resolve this and the president as commander in chief to lead that effort.
O'BRIEN: We'll see what happens. Senator John McCain and Senator Kelly Ayotte, thanks for talking with me and joining me this morning. I certainly appreciate it.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
AYOTTE: Thank you very much.