Speaker of the House John Boehner delayed an afternoon press conference for two hours Monday, in order to squeeze in a meeting with members of the House Armed Services Committee.
Committee members are less than thrilled about defense cuts included in the debt deal released Sunday night. Boehner could be seen personally discussing things Monday afternoon with committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon of California.
The compromise bill sets a cap of $684 billion for defense spending in 2012.
During a 3:30 p.m. press conference, Boehner said he was confident the committee would eventually vote in favor of the bill. “[A]s I told them, this is the best defense number we’re going to get,” Boehner explained to reporters. “So I believe that manay of our members from the Armed Services Committee will be supporting the work of the House.”
The Republican press conference included Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Conference Chair Jeb Hensarling, Conference Vice Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers and Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan. Their unified message was clear: the bill isn’t perfect, but it’s significant progress.
“Although [it is] not perfect, it will begin to change the culture here in Washington,” said Cantor, adding that “spending the way Washington spends taxpayer dollars is a lot like redirecting or turning an aircraft carrier. It’s a monumental task.”
Cantor pushed back against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s statement, during his own press conference earlier in the day, that the Virginian was open to revenue increases. (RELATED: Biden pitches plan to Hill Dems)
“I’m told that the leader on the other side of the building … went to floor today and indicated that somehow I’d changed my position on that,” said Cantor. “I can tell you flat-out that he is wrong. I insist again, that now is not the time for us to be considering tax hikes.”
Paul Ryan, especially, homed in on the message that while the bill is imperfect in many ways, it represents progress.
“Think about where we were in the beginning of this process,” said Ryan. “We had a president asking us for a blank check. He didn’t get that. Then we had a president asking us for a big tax increase on job creators. He didn’t get that. We said, with the Speaker’s leadership, that with every dollar of debt increase, you’ve got to cut a dollar’s worth of spending.”
“We got that,” he added. “We see this as a step in the right direction.”
The Speaker, however, would not comment on the status of the whip count, and the bill is far from safe passage in the House. A vote is scheduled to take place between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. (RELATED: Durbin: Tea Party engaging in political extortion)
While Boehner and the leadership worked to convince the GOP caucus, Vice President Joe Biden was dispatched to smooth things over with livid Democrats.
During that meeting, an angry Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, reportedly shouted out, “This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.”
“They have acted like terrorists,” Biden responded.
Majority Leader Reid, at least, is “hopeful and confident” the deal will be done “very quickly.”
Following that optimism, however, a few moments later he tacked on: “I never count my votes before they’re cast.”
The Senate could take up the bill late Monday night if the House passes it early enough. If not, the vote could be moved to Tuesday morning.
UPDATE: Shortly before 5:30 p.m., McKeon released a statement announced support for the bill, though it comes with “deep reservations.”
“I will support this proposal with deep reservations,” the Armed Services Committee Chair said. “Our senior military commanders have been unanimous in their concerns that deeper cuts could break the force. I take their position seriously and the funding levels in this bill won’t make their job easier. Still, this is the least bad proposal before us.”
But McKeon warned that defense and national security need to be protected in the Joint Committee. “There is no scenario in the second phase of this proposal that does not turn a debt crisis into a national security crisis,” he said. “Defense cannot sustain any additional cuts either from the joint committee or the sequestration trigger.”