CRYSTAL CITY: A senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee has given up hope that the House can agree on anything to prevent sequestration, provide defense appropriations for the remainder of the year, or raise the debt ceiling.
Judging from the way all the recent fiscal crises have been resolved, the solution has been “a Senate-driven process,” Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said this morning, addressing the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference.
Courtney said he was “not real optimistic” that Congress will be able to do what has to be done to prevent the economic and fiscal chaos that could result if nothing is done to resolve the three crises that are looming in the next two months.
The first issue, the need to raise the debt ceiling that allows the Treasury to borrow enough money to pay its bills, could hit some time in February. The next crisis is the threat of sequester, which could require $52 billion in draconian, across the board cuts in defense funding in the current fiscal year, which would hit March 1. Then on March 27, the continuing resolution that is funding the government at Fiscal 2012 levels, expires.
Failure to raise the debt or to extend or replace the CR with an appropriations bill could cause a partial or complete shutdown of the federal government, Triggering sequester would cause massive cuts in operations and maintenance, unpaid furloughs for civilian defense workers and severe impact of the military’s operational readiness, defense officials have warned.
Courtney cited the deal that prevented the “fiscal cliff” crisis over the expiring tax cuts and the original Jan. 2 sequester deadline, with a final House vote New Year’s Day, resulted from a compromise negotiated by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. A Senate-initiated bill also was the impetus to provide emergency funding for Hurricane Sandy relief, which the House reluctantly passed Monday, with mostly Democratic votes.
Because of that record, he said, “The Senate is really where you’re going to see the decisions” that could lead to a solution.
Considered a pro-defense moderate, Courtney noted that the problem in the House was the large group of relatively new, very conservative Republicans who are insisting on deep cuts in federal spending without any increased revenues. And many of them no longer support the traditional GOP position of demanding a strong national defense.
“I think the majority caucus (Republicans) is a very divided caucus,” he said, with those anti-government members opposing House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who Courtney said was a “very pragmatic guy who would like to come up with a solution.”
“I’m not real optimistic the House will be able to lead the way,” to resolution of the crises, he said.
Courtney urged the audience, which included a lot of defense industry representatives, to pressure Congress to solve the problems because “you have a lot of influence.”