Republican rift over sequester

US Senators John McCain(C) (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham(R) (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) hold a press conference
US Senators John McCain(C) (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham(R) (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) hold a press conference
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again—the sequester is the most unpopular thing in Washington that everybody once supported. With less than a month to go before the across-the-board spending cuts kick in, there’s a clear rift emerging among Republicans over how to handle the automatic budget cuts.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the coming defense cuts in the sequester “legislative madness” and blasted Congress for stalling on an agreement to avoid them. Speaking at Georgetown University, Panetta said “These steps would seriously damage the fragile American economy, and they would degrade our ability to respond to crisis precisely at a time of rising instability across the globe.”

On the Hill,  House Speaker John Boehner did his best to distance himself from the budget cuts, calling the pending cuts ”president’s sequester.”  Boehner said “I think it’s taking a meat axe to our government, a meat axe to many programs, and it will weaken our national defense. Now, that’s why I fought to not have the sequester in the first place.” Boehner put the ball in Democrats’ court, saying the cuts will go into effect unless Democrats agree to equivalent spending cuts, without tax increases.

But the GOP message that the White House is responsible for any damage done by the sequester was complicated by a group of defense hawks: Republican Senators John McCain, Jim Inhofe, Kelly Ayotte and Lindsey Graham all railed against defense cuts. Graham admitted Republicans “have our fingerprints as Republicans on this proposal, on this sequestration idea.  It was the president’s idea…but we as the Republican Party agreed to it.” Graham also warned that “our enemies would love this to happen. I’m sure Iran is very supportive of sequestration.”

The Club for Growth’s Barney Keller responded: “Congress promised when they passed the Budget Control Act that if the supercommittee failed, they’d do sequestration. We don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to do what they promised they would do.”

Keller refused to respond to Graham”s Iran comment saying,  ”I’m not going to stoop to that level.”