The Cable

Senate Libya debate unlikely this month

The Senate probably won't be debating the Libya war anytime soon. Top senators on both sides of the aisle are still negotiating over language for a resolution to express the Senate's view on the U.S. involvement in Libya, while the budget battle pushes the intervention to the back burner.

Congress was upset with President Barack Obama last month for committing U.S. forces to the international military intervention in Libya without seeking congressional consent or even really telling Congress about it in advance. But now, almost a month after the attack began, the appetite in the Senate for holding a full-fledged Libya debate on the floor, much less passing a resolution, just isn't there.

"I don't know if there will be time" to debate a resolution before senators leave town for a two-week recess next week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.

Kerry said he was still working on a resolution with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)  that expresses support for Obama's policy and that Sen. Carl Levin (D-MA) has also had input. But the three of them just can't seem to get together on the final language.

 "We've got the language resolved except for two words," Kerry said. He didn't say what those two words are, but several senate sources mentioned "regime change."

Regime change was the focus of the draft resolution circulated by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) last week. Cornyn's draft is the marker inside the GOP caucus -- but because it outwardly calls for regime change in Libya, it goes farther than the White House's policy and therefore can't be signed onto by the administration's top supporters on Libya, which include Levin and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL).

Like Cornyn, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) also wants the Senate to officially endorse regime change, a step Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) adamantly opposes.

We're told by multiple GOP senate aides that ultimately, a majority of the GOP caucus could go along with removing the phrase "regime change" from the resolution, but there's still no consensus. Meanwhile, there are also several senators who are just flat out opposed to the Libya war, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and SFRC ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).

In a Tuesday interview, Lugar told The Cable that he still had not received any clarity from the administration on the objectives, goals, or costs of the Libya war, which he said is just as important as resolving the issue of congressional authorization for the war.

"There's been no plan, no metrics for success, no budget as to how much will be spent during the conflict nor post conflict," Lugar said. "I think these are all important things and we'll continue to call for it."

The Cable

Levin: Defense cuts must be on the table

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said on Tuesday that he agreed with the White House that cuts to the defense budget must be part of upcoming budget negotiations.

"Defense has to be on the table," Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said in a Tuesday interview. "It means there should be some reductions in some parts of the defense budget. We haven't decided what those are yet, because it depends on a lot of things and it doesn't say how much those cuts should be, because that shouldn't be decided in the abstract."

Levin's comments track with those of Senior White House Advisor David Plouffe, who said on Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that, "We're going to have to look at defense spending."

Levin's Republican counterpart John McCain (R-AZ), said in a Tuesday interview that he strongly disagreed with Levin and that the efficiencies and savings put forth by Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this year were sufficient.

"We are in two wars, we are in a crisis in Libya, and before I could say I was for cutting defense, I'd have to be shown a need for them, not just a blanket statement that we should cut defense," said McCain. "That's just crazy and stupid."

The Paul Ryan (R-WI) budget actually calls for steady increases in defense spending: It proposes a $583 billion base defense budget in fiscal 2012, growing to $642 billion in 2016. Meanwhile the Ryan budget would slash State Department and Foreign Ops funding, which was cut by $8 billion in the budget deal struck last week to avoid a government shutdown.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Ops Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in a Tuesday interview that those cuts were ill advised.

"Most people think that about 20 to 40 percent of the national budget is in foreign aid, it's less than 1 percent," he said. "And A lot of time, what we do there if we do it wise keeps us out of wars."