Senators sound defense budget alarm in North Vegas


Associated Press

Posted on August 13, 2012 at 8:00 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 13 at 8:35 PM

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A trio of Republican senators sounded the alarm over billions of dollars' worth of "catastrophic" and "draconian" military budget cuts set to take effect in January, telling an audience in North Las Vegas Monday that more time was needed for negotiations.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham and New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte visited Nellis Air Force Base before taking their multi-state "Preserving America's Strength" town hall tour to a nearby community college Monday afternoon. The tour is focusing on a planned budget sequester that would impose $110 billion in federal spending cuts on Jan. 2.

"It would undermine our national security for generations, and the world has not become a safer place," Ayotte said, citing threats from Iran and elsewhere. "This is not a time for us to reduce our forces."

Sequestration is a series of automatic, across-the-board federal cuts that will take effect if Congress doesn't reach a budget solution in the next few months. First year cuts are split evenly between defense and domestic programs, and would affect everything from the Pentagon's ability to buy guns, ships and planes to the National Weather Service's equipment for forecasting hurricanes and tornadoes.

Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps and veterans' benefits would be exempt. President Barack Obama recently announced military personnel won't be affected — something the senators said needs to be back on the table.

The planned sequester is an effort to ease the federal deficit and trim $1.2 trillion over the next decade, and was the default plan if other compromises failed.

Last August, congressional Republicans demanded spending cuts in response to Obama's plea to raise the nation's borrowing authority by $2.1 trillion. As part of the negotiated deal, the two sides agreed on $900 billion in spending cuts and the creation of the bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. When that so-called "supercommittee" was unable to reach a consensus on a deficit-cutting plan last November, the countdown toward sequestration began.

Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the federal Office of Management and Budget, has said Obama has put forth two alternative plans that raise revenue and make cuts to avoid sequestration.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other Democrats argue that Republicans easily could spare the military from the reductions in projected spending if they agree to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

"By refusing to replace cuts with revenues, Republicans are putting millionaires ahead of the middle class and the military," Reid has said.

The Republicans' stop in the swing state of Nevada is an effort to pressure Obama and Congress to avert the cuts. It's the latest in a series of town halls that included Florida, North Carolina and New Hampshire.

At the afternoon event, which drew a few dozen people, some criticized the senators for using scare tactics in an election year battle.

"We need to cut the deficit, and not scam and scare the American public into thinking we're not safe," said Las Vegas resident Mary Lou Anderson.