Republicans welcomed former Vice President Dick Cheney to Capitol Hill on Tuesday as they ramped up their battles with Democrats over next year's spending, with parties at odds over extending the Bush tax cuts and allowing dramatic spending reductions to kick in January.
Mr. Cheney spoke to Senate Republicans during their weekly conference lunch and met behind closed doors with GOP House leaders later in the day, urging them to remain steadfast in their vows to avoid $500 billion in cuts to the Defense Department — part of a sequester deal they struck with the White House last summer to raise the debt ceiling.
House lawmakers said that during their hour-long meeting with Mr. Cheney, the former vice president described how the sequestration would hurt the military and told them the cuts would hurt America's position around the world.
"This is crazy to put our defense industry in this kind of position, especially when we're fighting a war over in Afghanistan," said House Armed Services Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, California Republican. "This is unprecedented, and I can't understand why we can't get the president, the commander-in-chief, the only person who is elected by everybody in the country, to engage in this."
While the agreement to cut $1.2 trillion over 10 years would take about equal amounts from defense and domestic programs, House Republicans want to shift some of the sequester cuts onto food stamps and other social programs, to the consternation of Democrats.
The House is bringing the fight into sharp focus this week, planning to vote Friday on two pieces of legislation: A $608 billion defense spending bill that spends $3 billion more than President Obama requested, and a bill requiring him to outline exactly how he would put the defense cuts into place.
The legislation is sure to be blocked in the Senate, but it highlights a heated spending and tax fight that's building toward the end of the year. While Mr. Obama wants to renew the Bush tax cuts only for low- and middle-income Americans, Republicans say they won't go along with a plan that raises taxes on anyone, including the wealthy.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of playing "Russian roulette with our economy," saying they wanted the sequester to kick in as taxes go up for wealthy Americans — a combination he said could cripple the already-struggling economy.
"Playing games with the economy, it's the single worst thing we can do for the American people," Mr. McConnell said. "We ought to quit it and sit down and try to work these differences out now."
Democrats agree that allowing the sequestration cuts to go into effect could hurt the economy, as job creation remains sluggish. But they said Republicans are fixating on the defense cuts while ignoring steep cuts to domestic spending.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer pointed out that Republicans voted to make it law last year as part of the debt-ceiling compromise and criticized them for the approach they're taking, saying they "want to have it both ways" as they push to undo the spending-cut trigger.
"Their observation that sequestration will have a detrimental effect on defense, I think, is correct. I think it also will have a detrimental effect on nondefense discretionary spending and have a detrimental effect on Medicare," Mr. Hoyer said.
House Republicans worked to highlight the cuts' effects on the defense industry, inviting top defense executives to testify at an Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, and highlighting studies showing the sequestration cuts and tax hikes would harm the economy.
A study commissioned by the Aerospace Industries Association projected that the unemployment rate would climb above 9 percent and cost 2.14 million jobs if the defense cuts were allowed to go into effect.
And House Speaker John A. Boehner slammed Mr. Obama after a study by accounting firm Ernst and Young showed that his proposed tax hikes on the wealthy could cost the economy more than 700,000 jobs.
"Our economy is still struggling under President Obama's policies, and his massive tax hike will only make things tougher," Mr. Boehner said. "It's one of the worst possible ideas at one of the worst possible times for families and small businesses."
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