Is Sen. McCain Rounding Up an Anti-Sequester Posse to Confront House Tea Party Members?

There are new signs a fight is brewing between House GOP tea party members and moderate Senate Republicans over sequestration and other budgetary issues. (Image by Defense News staff)

As Congress prepares to scatter late next week across the nation for its annual August recess, there are few signs that a sequestration-voiding “grand bargain” is likely. What’s more, little work has been done to raise the country’s debt ceiling and avert a government shutdown.

Reasons for pessimism abound. Yet, some analysts and political observers are slowly highlighting some promising signs.

Take Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent, who on Monday wrote of the possible emergence of a “Compromise Caucus” in the Senate. And that’s key because House and Senate lawmakers have told me for months that any big fiscal deal must originate in the upper chamber.

Sargent cites a radio interview conducted last Friday that featured comments from Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican many in Washington increasingly see as the key to a big fiscal deal that lessens or voids sequestration.

“Some of my Republican colleagues are already saying we won’t raise the debt limit unless there’s repeal of Obamacare. I’d love to repeal Obamacare, but I promise you that’s not going to happen on the debt limit. So some would like to set up another one of these shutdown-the-government threats. And most Americans are really tired of those kinds of shenanigans here in Washington.

 “What I would like to see is serious negotiations to eliminate the sequester, and progress on facing up to this deficit that is sooner or later going to harm our children and our grandchildren.”

This, Sargent concludes, “confirms that McCain — and perhaps a few more Republican Senators who seem to have joined the new Compromise Caucus — are heading for a direct collision with House Republicans over the coming debt limit and budget battles.” For defense-sector readers, this is good news.

The Post blogger and columnist notes congressional Democrats hope McCain can deliver a “sizable bloc of Republicans” who have “had it with the GOP’s unremitting hostility to basic governing compromises.”

Sarget is exactly right. I noted last year that when it cames to making sequestration disappear with a “grand bargain” deal, House Republicans were the biggest hurdle. Little has changed since.

A showdown between traditionally moderate, establishment Republicans like McCain and the party’s young guns has seemed inevitable since the young, upstart deficit hawks began swooping into Washington in 2010. Yet, that clash has never really happened.

I can confirm, based on my recent conversations with him and observing him in action on the Hill, that McCain seems — no, is — rejuvenated. Does the Senate’s “Maverick” have one more Washington budget battle left in him?

And how ironic is it that a group with a working title that includes the word compromise — indeed, a group that is all about forging a compromise that has been elusive for three years — might have to start a fight to resolve one?

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett