Former Vice President Dick Cheney told fellow Republicans in Congress that U.S. defense readiness will suffer if lawmakers don’t avert across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to begin in January.
Cheney, who was President George H.W. Bush’s defense secretary from 1989 to 1993, said during a private meeting with Senate Republicans today that the 10-year cuts totaling $500 billion would be “devastating” to military modernization, planning and readiness for the next war, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham told reporters.
The former vice president came to Capitol Hill for meetings with Senate and House Republicans as lawmakers discussed ways to avert the automatic defense spending cuts. Graham and other Republican senators told reporters that Cheney said the reductions would disrupt long-term planning and weapons modernization.
Cheney, 71, said defense spending is “not a spigot you can turn on and turn off, that you need to keep money flowing in a predictable way so you can plan for the next war,” Graham said after Senate Republicans’ weekly luncheon, where the former vice president spoke.
Graham said Cheney, who served as vice president under President George W. Bush, told lawmakers that “what we were able to achieve in the first Gulf War” that expelled Iraqi troops from Kuwait “was the result of planning and spending” during the 1980s.
Cheney was defense secretary when Bush’s father began the Persian Gulf War in 1991 after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait the previous year. Cheney was vice president when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.
The scheduled defense cuts are part of $1.2 trillion in automatic spending reductions over 10 years that will begin in January unless Congress agrees on a plan to replace it.
Republicans have ruled out tax increases while Democrats have said any budget cuts must be financed, in part, by letting tax cuts first enacted in 2001 and 2003 for the highest earning Americans expire at year’s end.
Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who has advocated ways to postpone the so-called defense sequester for a year, said Cheney told Senate Republicans the cuts will “have long-term impacts” on the Defense Department because “you never know where the next conflict is coming from.”
Cheney didn’t offer suggestions on how to avert the cuts, lawmakers said.
A group of Senate Armed Services Republicans, including Graham and Ayotte, have discussed ways to finance a one-year postponement of defense cuts through sale of assets and ending some tax breaks.
The former vice president also met with House Republican leaders and committee chairmen.
Cheney’s message to House Republicans was “we can’t gut our military,” Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier of California told reporters as he left the meeting.
Graham said Cheney “probably talked more today than he did in eight years,” as vice president attending lunches with Senate Republicans. “He really helped the cause of people like me to find the energy and political will” to avoid the cuts, the senator said.