As negotiations continue over the fiscal cliff and the Pentagon continues to face a serious threat to its budget, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a leading hawk, said Tuesday that he's ready to see the across-the-board cuts happen if it means averting "a Budget Control Act 2” in which Congress just kicks the can again.
"No one has been more outspoken about the dangers of sequestration,” Graham said, “but this is my biggest fear — that the day you begin to pull the trigger on sequestration, it’ll be used to create tax revenue legislation that doesn’t make sense," he told reporters Tuesday. "It’ll be used as an excuse to avoid doing entitlement reform, which is long overdue."
Graham said the threat of sequester slashing $500 billion from the Pentagon budget wouldn't "push [him] into a deal that doesn't reform entitlements."
"We don't need a Budget Control Act 2 where we punt everything down the road. Let’s just deal with the problems of the country," he said.
Graham's comments to reporters came as President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner trade new offers on the fiscal cliff deal, some of the first with provisions that might save defense.
The latest White House offer included a provision for "turning off" sequestration for some areas of federal spending — though it didn't detail what would be exempt and what would not — and included $100 billion in additional Pentagon cuts. That proposal would delay, but not totally avert, the cuts that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned would be devastating for the department and the nation's defenses.
Boehner said Tuesday morning that he hasn’t yet determined how his plan B proposal to avert the fiscal cliff would handle sequestration and other major sticking points, including the Alternative Minimum Tax and the estate tax.
Graham said that for as important as he believes it is to protect the Pentagon, a larger deal on taxes and spending would trump even that.
"I say go for it,” he said. “I don't want sequestration to be used for us to create a deal ... that just makes bad policy on the revenue side," Graham said. "Let it happen; the goal of sequestration was to get a guy like me to just agree to any deal on spending or revenue or punt the ball on entitlements. I'm just not going to do that. "