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Do They Have the Votes? (Updated)

5:00 PM, Aug 1, 2011 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Can the debt deal pass the House of Representatives? House speaker John Boehner has said he believes he has the votes from the Republican caucus, and Steny Hoyer, the Democratic minority whip, says he can deliver 80 to 100 votes from his side of the aisle. Key GOP House members who have said they’ll vote “yes” on the debt deal include Budget committee chairman Paul Ryan, former Republican Study Committee chairs Tom Price and Mike Pence, and Lt. Colonel Allen West.

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But some Republican members, including those on the Armed Services committee, are expressing caution over the extent of defense cuts in the deal. Armed Services chairman Buck McKeon said he was “still looking at” the plan as he walked into this afternoon’s House GOP conference meeting. A spokesman said McKeon will have a decision later this evening. (See update below.)

Committee member Bobby Schilling, a freshman from Illinois, said today in the Capitol the committee is split, with about 25 percent for the deal, 25 percent against, and 50 percent undecided. Schilling, who said he is “neutral” and wants to see what exactly gets cut before committing his vote, pulled a business card out of his wallet that lists the age of some of the military’s vehicles and equipment “Average age, 35 years for assault vehicles, things like that,” he explained. “We’ve got to make sure that we don’t put our war fighters back too far to where they can’t defend themselves. If there’s some wasteful spending there, don’t get me wrong, that needs to be cut.” But solely honing in on the Department of Defense to find cuts, Schilling said, isn’t the way to go.

Todd Young, another freshman and Armed Services committee member, said he is undecided on the plan at this point. “I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good,” Young said. “I do harbor some concerns that we’re not approaching our defense budget in the same sort of deliberative fashion that you would ideally like to approach it with.”

These reservations may not ultimately matter in terms of the bill's passage. If Hoyer can come through with the 80 to 100 votes he's shooting for, the bill should be able to pass even if even if 100 or more Republicans vote "no." But concerns about cuts to defense spending are palpable among several GOP members of Congress.

"Everybody's concerned about defense. It will be a difficult job to reach this number, but we'll do it," said Bill Young, the chair of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, who will vote "yes" tonight. "The total allocation is a little murky right now. We don't even know what the FY12 allocation will be specifically. We're thinking anywhere on the order of 10 to 15 billion dollars more [in cuts] than we have already cut."

UPDATE: Here's House Armed Services committee chairman Buck McKeon's statement of support for the deal:

I will support this proposal with deep reservations.  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.  What is clear is we have cut what we can from the Department of Defense, and given what’s at stake it is essential that the joint committee include strong national security voices.  There is no scenario in the second phase of this proposal that does not turn a debt crisis into a national security crisis.  Defense cannot sustain any additional cuts either from the joint committee or the sequestration trigger.

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