Dick Cheney moves quickly these days. He arrived in the Senate shortly after noon, heading to lunch with Republicans, breezing by a small group of reporters and photographers. The only question -- which he ignored -- was what he thought of Marco Rubio. Irrelevent. Cheney was there, as Jake Sherman reported yesterday, to tell Republicans how they could roll back the defense sequester.
A little reminder, in case you've erased the debt limit details from your traumatized brain. The debt limit was increased by $2.4 trillion* with the condition that a "super committee" (you remember now) be empaneled to find $1.2 trillion or more of spending cuts. If they failed, then in 2013, $700 billion would be slashed from the discretionary spending pool, and $700 billion would be slashed from the Defense budget. The theory, hilarious in retrospect (and pretty funny then!), was that the possibility of blunt cuts would spook Congress into actually achieving something.
Ever since the super committee failed, defense lobbyists, vulnerable members, and Republicans in general have been building the case to undo all those defense cuts. In May, the House narrowly passed the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012, proposed by Paul Ryan, which would (if it had a chance) replace all defense cuts with entitlement cuts. No Democrat backed it. They hold some high cards here, because defense cuts are actually pretty popular.
Enter Cheney. "He's one of the most successful secretaries of Defense that we've ever had," said Sen. John McCain, entering the meeting. After it ended, with two loud, audible bursts of applause, senators filed out and pronounced Cheney a succes.
"One thing that the vice president pointed out, that I think also added to the discussion," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., "was when you make these cuts across the board in the way that sequestration does, it's not only the impact on today, it will make a long-term impact on the Defense Department. He pointed that out in context with other conflicts that we've fought. You never know when the next conflict is going to come."
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., emerged from the meeting with more praise for Cheney's grasp of history and security threats. "It was a very successful presentation," he said, "and my guess is, everybody in the room agrees with it."
As he talked, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., exited and found an elevator. Only one reporter tried to pry information about the presentation from him -- a good call, since Paul isn't as adamant about saving the entire defense budget as some Republicans.
"It was a private meeting," said Paul.
*Originally mistakenly wrote "billion" instead of trillion.