- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2013

President Obama could gain support for his plan to attack Syria if he were to strike a deal with Republicans who want him to end defense spending cuts, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Sunday.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon’s comments, on CNN’s “State of the Union” program, underscored the tricky nature of the issues Congress faces as it returns to Washington after a five-week vacation: It’s got a spending fight and another battle over the debt limit stacked up, even as it now has to debate what to do about Syria.

Already the agenda is crowding out one major issue — immigration — according to Rep. Raul R. Labrador, an Idaho Republican who had been part of a group trying to fashion a broad compromise bill in the House, but who said too many other issues are pushing it to the side.

Mr. Labrador said that means it’s probably a dead issue in this Congress.

“If we don’t do it now, in 2013, it’s not going to be — it’s not going to happen in 2014. And that means that we’re going to have to wait until 2015,” he told Univision’s “Al Punto” program in an interview that aired Sunday.

“A lot of us thought that the debate was going to be in October, but now, with the problems that we’re having internationally and also here in this country, I don’t see how we’re going to be able to have this debate until — until November. And I really don’t know if it will be possible to do it in November,” he said.

The heavy schedule begins in the Senate with a debate over Syria this week, while the House turns its attention to spending. GOP leaders in that chamber have slated a vote on a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running for an extra month past the Sept. 30 deadline, buying Congress more time to negotiate a bigger deal.

That time frame would mean the next spending showdown would come in October, just as Congress is debating whether to raise the debt limit. Republican leaders hope combining those fights will enhance their bargaining power, both with Democrats and with tea party lawmakers within their own party.

One key question about the spending bills is whether Congress will allow the automatic sequesters to remain in place.

Adopted as part of a 2011 debt limit deal, the cuts slice about $90 billion from government operations, and about half of that comes from defense.

That has irked defense hawks in Congress who say the military is stretched thin.

This weekend Mr. McKeon, California Republican, said undoing those cuts would improve the chances for congressional approval of Mr. Obama’s request for authorization for a military strike on Syria.

“I cannot guarantee that we can get votes for it, but I know that a lot of people have the same concerns that I do. And if we can fix this, it may help some people with their votes.”

Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, also appearing on CNN, told host Candy Crowley that it is “immoral” to ask the U.S. military to take on a new mission while facing budget cuts.

“Is there anything the president could say that would convince you to say ‘yes’ on this?” Ms. Crowley asked.

“Fix sequestration,” Mr. McKeon said, as Mrs. Blackburn agreed: “Sequesters.”

Speaking on C-Span’s “Newsmakers” program, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra said Congress needs to be able to tackle all of those issues — and immigration — at the same time this year.

“I hope the Republican leadership won’t let a very necessary reform of our broken immigration system become the victim of something unrelated — the Syria crisis,” the Californian said. “I would hope members of Congress could walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Mr. Becerra is part of the bipartisan House group working on a bill, and he said the lawmakers’ aides talked over the summer about ways to move forward on the bill.



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