While most Washington lawmakers fled Washington Thursday night, Republicans from the House Armed Services Committee stuck around to get in one final jab on sequestration Friday.
Immediately after the Senate rejected two bills that would have avoided the across-the-board automatic budget cuts, most lawmakers exited the Capitol, walked down the building's east steps toward their cars and drove straight to the airport. Two groups remained behind: party leaders, who had scheduled a meeting with the president on Friday, and Republican members of the Armed Services Committee, who wanted one more chance to have a say about this week's failure to avoid the cuts.
"I have never in my lifetime seen such a lack of leadership and truth telling emanating from the White House from our commander in chief," a visibly frustrated Rep. Buck McKeon, a California Republican who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said at a press conference. "We are done cutting our defense."
The defense budget faces a relatively sharp reduction under sequestration, which calls for slowing the growth of Pentagon spending by $487 billion over the next decade. McKeon, joined by other Republican members of the committee, blamed the president for not reaching a deal with Congress to avoid the automatic spending reductions. "It is unconscionable for this president to use our military families as pawns in his crusade for higher taxes," said Alabama Rep. Martha Roby.
Both Republicans and Democrats have rejected responsibility for the failure to agree to a deficit-reduction plan that would serve as an alternative. Shortly after McKeon made his comments, Obama, who signed the bill into law in 2011, held a press conference at the White House, where he refused to accept blame for the cuts. And although 174 Republicans voted to approve the sequestration plan, McKeon, who was one of the "aye" votes, also denied accountability, suggesting Friday that he was misled by the president and Republican leadership at the time.
"I took the leadership's promise that the supercommittee would do its work, that it would never happen," McKeon said when asked by Yahoo News if he accepted any responsibility for sequestration. "The president promised it would never happen. That's passed. It happened. That vote also, at that time, was to raise the debt ceiling. If we hadn't done that, we would have had a more serious crisis. I was hopeful that we would—given time—come up with a better solution. We haven't done it. I'm saying it's gone far enough. This is the end. No more cuts out of our national security."