09/08/2011 07:48 pm ET Updated Nov 08, 2011

Kyl Beats a Retreat from the Debt Supercommittee

Senator Jon Kyl has threatened to quit the debt supercommittee. We should all be so lucky.

But why now, only one day into the legally required work of the supercommittee to save our country from overwhelming debt, has the second most powerful Republican in the Senate proclaimed that he won't do the public's business?

The answer is because Kyl wants to spend endlessly on defense. And because he knows that defense cuts are coming, whether he likes it or not, he's threatening to throw in the towel.

At a speech organized by several defense spending advocacy organizations, Kyl stated that not only would he refuse to endorse defense cuts within the supercommittee's work, but that he would in fact move to abrogate the defense cuts mandated by law that were part of the debt ceiling deal made with President Obama -- and one that he voted for only last month!

Most experts say that such modest reductions to a bloated budget can be made while providing for U.S. national security. Bipartisan voices also argue that reductions to defense spending must be on the table in order to control our national debt. However, some Members of Congress, such as Kyl -- the leading defense spender on the super committee -- are fighting to hold onto every defense dollar.

Yet Kyl knows that this can't be done, and worse from his perspective, he has no leverage to stop the looming reductions. Here's why:

First, if Kyl quits and is not replaced on the supercommittee, then the Democrats would have majority control of the supercommittee. Assuming that they stick to a balanced approach for controlling the debt, that would include defense reductions. Kyl does not get his way.

Second, if Kyl stays and the supercommittee makes more defense reductions, then he could move to deadlock the supercommittee with a 6 - 6 vote. But the debt ceiling law requires that the supercommittee advance a bill that Congress can vote on. Without a bill, the debt reduction agreement's legally required triggers get pulled, mandating $500 billion in additional defense reductions over the next ten years. Again, Kyl does not get his way.

Third, and worst for Kyl, he can neither block the supercommittees' bill nor abrogate the debt ceiling law if it makes it to the Senate floor. The debt ceiling law that he voted for requires an up or down vote in the Senate. The supercommittee bill cannot be filibustered, and with Democrats controlling 53 votes but only needing 51 to pass the bill, normal procedural hurdles that Kyl would typically use are unavailable to him now. This means that again, Kyl does not get his way.

The bottom line on Kyl's gambit to publicly pressure the supercommittee against more defense reductions is that it reveals that Kyl has no leverage on the issue. So he wants out, to avoid taking political heat for being part of the coming reductions to the defense budget. He has shown his cards, but unfortunately for Kyl, he's playing a bad hand.

But this is also unfortunate for the rest of us. With the debt crisis staring us in the face, now is the time for real leadership in Washington to emerge to make tough decisions to protect our nation's fiscal health while also providing for a strong and affordable national defense. Instead of helping lead this effort, Kyl is threatening to abandon his responsibilities when the going gets tough.

So maybe Senator Kyl is right. Maybe it is time for him to exit the stage.