Republicans and Defense: Convictions Without Courage
I wa struck by the juxtaposition of two news stories today. In the first, the Republican Study Committee issued a report endorsed by 165 Members of Congress calling for a reduction in discretionary spending to FY 2006 levels from FY 2012 through FY 2021, for a total savings of $2.29 trillion (from what baseline is not clear). Notably exempt from this cut: defense, homeland security, and veterans.
The same day the New York Times released a NYTimes/CBS News poll with some startling data. Asked to prioritize budget cuts between Medicare, Social Security, and the military, 13% would cut Social Security, 21% would cut Medicare, and a whopping 55% would cut the military budget. OK, so maybe the sample was biased and Republicans feel different. Indeed, breaking down the data, Republicans did feel (a little) different: 17% Social Security, 31% Medicare, and a still staggering 42% who would cut the military budget. OK, but what about those Independents, who are so crucial to electoral swings the last few elections? Pretty revealing: 15% Social Security, 24% Medicare, and back to that 55% who would cut the military budget.
The RSC report parallels the House Republican intention, next Tuesday, of voting on a budget resolution which would also exempt defense, homeland security, and veterans from the overall goal of reducing the FY 2011 discretionary budget to FY 2008 levels.
The RSC conviction is clear: we are going to cut the budget. Their courage has failed, however. The political atmosphere could not be more propitious for putting everything on the table, but the RSC seems unprepared to "man up" to the task of taking on the defense budget, which is 56% of discretionary spending.
Even a lot of Republicans provide the rationale, or if failing Republican hearts need it, the cover, to put defense on the table. In the past few months, no fewer than Grover Norquist, Sen. Tom Coburn, Richard Armey, David Stockman, Sen. John Ensign, Rep. Eric Cantor, Rep. Paul Ryan (some days), to name only a few, have had the courage to say that defense needs to be on the table. Many of them tell us why: changing missions, inefficiency, pork barrel projects, you name it.
But the Republican Study Group failed the test of courage. In fact, to add insult to weakness, they went after foreign policy programs, among others, including eliminating USAID and the Trade and Development Agency, cancelling Economic Support Funds for Egypt, and ending funding for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the OECD. There is no recognition that our diplomacy and assistance programs are an important contribution to our security - diplomats can be left hanging out to dry. But perhaps some chest thumping about how hard they were on diplomats.
Lots of conviction, but it would seem, not the courage to tackle the big one.