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House Won’t Roll Back Defense Cuts This Year

The House won’t be taking up changes to mandatory cuts to defense spending anytime soon despite increasing calls from GOP defense hawks and some leaders to tackle the issue this year.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had been holding discussions with House and Senate Republicans and Democrats — including Sen. Joe Lieberman (I.-Conn.) — about attaching changes to the sequester’s defense cuts to must-pass unemployment and tax legislation this year.

The sequester is $1.2 trillion of automatic cuts to defense and domestic spending that had originally been designed to force the super committee to come to a broad deficit deal. But now that the effort has failed, the cold reality of major reductions to defense spending has spooked Republicans who are eager to roll them back.

But Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who had given his blessing to Cantor’s efforts, now appears intent on pushing the issue until sometime next year.

When asked whether the sequester could be repealed before the end of the calendar year, Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said, “I don’t see how you could.”

A GOP aide familiar with the situation agreed, saying, “I believe that issue is settled” and that Republicans will now look to move the unemployment insurance and payroll tax cut extension as a stand-alone package.

Cantor is expected to continue his efforts to craft a bipartisan deal to change the sequester, although it also will now be a stand-alone measure.

While the short amount of time left this year was a contributing factor, broader concerns appear to be at play.

Part of the reasoning behind not pursuing changes to defense cuts this year is a belief amongst many Republicans that as the election approaches, President Barack Obama will bear more of the public burden for the deep cuts to defense spending. That, they believe, will in turn make the White House more amenable to changes favoring Republican positions.

Indeed, when asked about Cantor’s efforts Thursday, Boehner sought to push the issue onto Obama’s shoulders.

“There are a lot of Members who are concerned about the defense cuts,” the Ohio Republican said. “I understand the concern. But the president is the commander in chief. The president understands pretty clearly that these cuts would do serious harm to our ability to defend our country and our allies around the world. So I believe there’s a role he has to play in this process as well.”

But a second issue for Boehner is his continuing hope to find a way to a grand compromise to address the debt and deficit.

Despite the failure of the super committee last month, Boehner said he remains committed to trying to find a deal.

“The problem’s still there. We have a $15 trillion national debt. We’re going to add another $1.3 trillion worth of debt to it this year. This issue has to be addressed, and it has to be addressed now,” Boehner said.

“The Congress still must work with the president to find a solution to our long-term debt. … I’m one of those who just never gives up, and I’m not going to give up here either,” he added.

Meanwhile, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told Congressional Quarterly on Wednesday that he would attempt to eliminate the automatic defense cuts in the budget blueprint he outlines next year. “Our budget will show how we will replace the sequester with a real fiscal fix,” Ryan said.

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