The Spectacle Blog

McCain is a Big Reason the GOP is Defenseless on Defense Budget Cuts

By on 8.2.11 | 9:00AM

It's hard not to sympathize with House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner, given the utter intransigence of President Obama and Harry Reid, and given the outright hostility of the legacy media.

Obama and Reid, after all, have not negotiated in good faith; and the media has been contemptuous of GOP and Tea Party attempts to rein in an out-of-control federal budget.

But my friend Quin Hillyer errs when he tells us to swallow hard and accept the budget deal's likely gutting of the defense budget because John McCain says it's OK.

"The one and only subject on which he [McCain] always has been reliable," Quin writes, "is on fighting for a strong defense. Again, check the record: He is extremely knowledgeable, and extremely pro-defense."

McCain is certainly an outspoken foreign policy interventionist, and he may be pro-defense, but he is not "extremely knowledgeable."

As I wrote for FrumForum two years ago:

Very few GOP legislators -- and McCain is a prime example, unfortunately -- are willing to get their hands dirty legislatively.

McCain's experience with the defense budget is a case in point. As an aviator and as a naval officer, Senator McCain was a great warrior; but unlike, say, former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, he simply doesn't understand the intricacies of the defense budget. McCain relies heavily on his staff and outside "experts" -- long-time Washington hands who reflect the center-left conventional wisdom.

Consequently, McCain -- and not only McCain, I regret to say, but many other GOP legislators -- have supported Obama's massive and ill-advised defense budget cuts. These cuts were ill-advised because they eliminated crucial ground-force modernization initiatives which McCain seems not to understand or appreciate, and they have been severe.

According to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, Obama has taken some $439 billion has been taken out of defense. No other government program or agency has been forced to suffer such draconian cuts, only the U.S. military. And now, on top of these massive cuts, we face the prospect of hundreds of billions more being taken out of defense within the next decade.

True, Chairman McKeon has reluctantly agreed to support the budget deal, but more so, I think, for reasons of political peer pressure than anything else: He wants to be a good team player, especially after the political and media drubbing that House Republicans have endured these past few weeks.

"I will support this proposal with deep reservations," McKeon said in a statement.

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.

In other words, McKeon's saying: "Defense will take one for the (GOP) team this time. But don't expect me to stand idly by if the sequestration trigger goes into effect and the defense budget is eviscerated."

That's swallowing hard, but that's McKeon, not McCain. The senior senator from Arizona is swallowing all too willingly -- hook, line, and sinker. 

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