The Cable

Coburn to McCain: Cutting defense is not 'isolationist'

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) Tuesday rejected the assertion by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that calls for cuts in defense spending represent the rise of "protectionism and isolationism" within the Republican party.

At a conference Monday at the Foreign Policy Initiative, a conservative think tank, McCain said that he was worried about divisions within the Republican Party on the issue of defense spending.

"I worry a lot," McCain said. "Because throughout the history of the Republican Party in modern times, there's been, obviously, as we know, two wings: The isolationist wing, manifested before World War II and at other times; and the internationalist side. And so I think there are going to be some tensions within our party."

McCain then singled out Senator-elect Rand Paul (R-KY) as an example of the party's isolationist wing. While McCain said he "respects" Paul, he criticized him for openly calling for trimming the defense budget. "Already he has talked about withdrawals from, or cuts in defense, et cetera. And a number of others are... So I worry a lot about the rise of protectionism and isolationism in the Republican Party."

The Cable couldn't reach Paul today so we caught up with Coburn, one of the only GOP senators to openly call for cuts in defense spending. Coburn said McCain was flat wrong in saying that cutting defense is an indication of isolationism.

"It's not hard to cut the defense budget and keep our defense exactly where it is," Coburn told The Cable. "That's how much waste is over there. Nothing is sacrosanct, it can't be. As a matter of fact, the way the Defense Department is run now, we're actually getting less bang for the buck. If we trim it down, we'll get more bang for the buck."

Paul told ABC's This Week on Nov. 7 that he would "absolutely" vote for cuts in military spending if such a vote was put before him. "You need ... compromise on where the spending cuts come from," Paul told ABC's Christiane Amanpour. "Republicans traditionally say, oh, we'll cut domestic spending, but we won't touch the military. The liberals -- the ones who are good -- will say, oh, we'll cut the military, but we won't cut domestic spending... Bottom line is, you have to look at everything across the board."

UPDATE: Senator McCain called in to The Cable to clarify his remarks about Afghanistan, defense spending, and Rand Paul. McCain said his comments related to his worry about "protectionism and isolationism" within the Republican party were referring to Paul's stance that the U.S. should withdraw from Afghanistan. He agrees with Paul that there are huge amounts of savings in the defense budget that could be realized by eliminating cost-plus contracts as well as tackling waste, fraud and abuse. But McCain believes that the savings should be reinvested in other parts of the defense department, such as operations and repairing war-damaged equipment, whereas Paul believes such savings should be taken away from the Pentagon.

 "I believe that with proper efficiencies, we could have savings of $100 billion over 5 years and I totally agree with Defense Secretary [Robert Gates] on that issue," McCain said, adding, "I am not in favor of cutting defense, I am in favor of savings, which could be huge, and reinvesting that in the neglected side of defense."

The Cable

Kerry and Biden: We are still going to push for New START this year

Senate Foreign Affairs Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who has taken the lead in the Senate on the New START treaty with Russia, said Tuesday afternoon that he still believed the treaty can be ratified this year during Congress's lame duck session, despite an earlier statement to the contrary by the key GOP senator dealing with the treaty, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ).

"I think this is a treaty dealing with the security of our country and if we don't have time to deal with the security of our country, something is really wrong with the Senate," Kerry told reporters at the Capitol building Tuesday afternoon. "I think we have to deal with this."

Responding directly to Kyl's statement on Tuesday that doubted there would be enough time to consider New START in the lame duck session, Kerry said that doesn't mean Kyl won't eventually agree to a vote this year. He said Kyl had provided the administration with a list of items and the administration was working on that list now.

"We're not stopping because we're negotiating. We're planning to go forward," said Kerry. When asked if he was confident the vote could happen in December, as he predicted last week, he said, "I'm not going to qualify what my feelings are about where we are heading."

On Tuesday afternoon, Vice President Joseph Biden issued a statement also pledging to move forward with New START this year.

"Failure to pass the New START Treaty this year would endanger our national security," Biden stated. "Given new START's bipartisan support and enormous importance to our national security, the time to act is now and we will continue to seek its approval by the Senate before the end of the year."

Biden's statement confirmed that the administration plans to request an additional $4.1 billion for modernization over the next five years, as per Kyl's request. That's on top of the $80 billion the administration has pledged for the modernization over the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, the chorus of senators on both sides of the aisle calling for the vote to be delayed until next year is increasing. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told The Cable he would like to see the vote put off to make time for domestic items during the lame duck session.

In an exclusive interview with The Cable Tuesday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who voted for the treaty in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, laid out a long list of reasons why the treaty shouldn't be taken up during the lame duck session.

"We're still awaiting the second five-year portion of the [modernization] report. I just don't think it's practical, just looking at the calendar. I think taking up a treaty like this during the lame duck session creates a lot of distrust. A lot of the new members coming in want the ability to weigh in," Corker said.

He said he believed the treaty could pass, with some modifications, but it should be next year. "My sense is, we'd be much better off to wait, and in the course of doing so we could potentially figure out a way to get to an overwhelming vote," Corker said.

Emerging from the weekly GOP caucus lunch, which was attended by some of the newly-elected GOP senators, Corker also said that the Republican victory in the recent midterm elections also factored into his call for a delay in ratifying the treaty.

"To me, trying to do something of this nature during the lame duck session is just not the appropriate way of doing it, especially when you've had such a change in the makeup of the body," he said. "It might have been different had everything remained generally the same. But when voters have spoken the way that they have, to take up this treaty on the floor... I just don't see it happening."

Kerry rejected the idea that the treaty should be delayed to allow the newly elected senators to weigh in.

"This treaty has been in this session. We've been working on it and the hearings have been held in this session. The questions were asked by this year's senators," Kerry said. "We could have had a vote in August and I purposefully delayed it at request of Republicans to give them more time to evaluate it. So we are where we are because they requested more time."

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