Former Vice President Dick Cheney paid a visit to Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill today. He came to talk about an issue that could have significant impacts in the D.C. area: cuts to defense spending. As Alex Bolton, senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper explains, approximately $500 billion will be cut from defense spending over the next decade unless Congress intervenes.
What message did Cheney come to deliver today?
"He met with Senate Republicans over lunch and he told them that if the defense sequester goes through, that it would hurt national security. He has special authority amongst Republicans on this issue, because he served as defense secretary under President George H. W. Bush. And the point Cheney made today was that if you're going to be reducing defense spending, you have to be strategic about it. And these automatic cuts are anything but strategic and will end up hurting U.S. national security flexibility in the coming years. He said that when he was defense secretary during the Persian Gulf War, he benefited from the defense investments made in the '80s, and he urged Republicans not to shortchange future defense secretaries."
What kind of impact do you think Cheney could have here?
"I think he adds to the argument being made by Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina that Republicans should do all they can to avert tax cuts, and that may mean compromising on taxes."
How are Democrats reacting to his visit?
"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today was pretty dismissive of Cheney's visit. He noted that Cheney served as CEO of Halliburton, a major defense contractor, between 1995 and 2000 and suggested that Cheney's visit may be motivated by his ties to Halliburton. So, Democrats are going to portray the concern by Republicans as being driven in part by special interests."
We've talked before about some disagreement in the Republican party about how to approach these defense cuts. Is there any consensus forming?
"There is a consensus forming. One Senator, Bob Corchran of Tennessee told me today that he supports deficit reduction, but he worries that there is something called "erosion" amongst his Republican colleagues. They are feeling less committed to these automatic cuts. John McCain today floated the idea of a one-year postponement of these cuts, so there could be a slackening resolve to see these go through."
And where do the Democrats stand on all of this right now?
"Democrats have been pretty silent on the issue. They're being lobbied behind the scenes by Progressives and labor groups to not give ground on defense cuts. But there will likely be a number of them who will want to see those defense cuts go away. For instance, Jim Webb of Virginia is one possible candidate, a former secretary of the U.S. Navy, and defense is very important in Virginia."
Are you sensing urgency from the members of our local congressional delegations?
"In addition to Webb, Ben Cardin, a Democrat for Maryland spoke to reporters today. He said that he would like to see this issue solved before the election. The assumption is that these defense cuts, and the impending cuts to social programs, won't get solved until after the election — during the lame duck session. He says they need to be solved before the election."