A number of tea party leaders and newly elected Republican Members of Congress have indicated that any package of deficit reductions should target defense spending as well as domestic. Some Republicans have stated that no program should be off the table when dealing with the U.S. budget deficit.
The recently concluded House of Representatives consideration of the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution funding the entire federal government was a good test of that sentiment.
While it is important to avoid going overboard in discussing GOP freshmen’s willingness to cut the military budget, it is clear that this is not your father’s Republican Party – at least in the House.
For example, the bill produced by the House Appropriations Committee and sent to the House floor supposedly walled off the Pentagon budget from any cuts. In fact, it provided $516,214,000 for the Department of Defense, less than the Obama administration’s request of $530,941,000. While the cut was about $14.5 billion and only 2.8%, much less than the cuts imposed on most domestic programs and the Department of State, it meant that the Defense budget was not totally sacrosanct to Republican leaders. It was enough to bring about howls of anguish from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
The most visible symbol of the change within House Republicans – there is likely to be much less change in the Senate – came on February 16, 2011 when the House approved an amendment offered by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) by a vote on 233 – 198. One hundred ten Republicans voted “aye” on the amendment 130 “nay,” meaning 46% of those GOP Members voted to terminate the engine.
A similar amendment offered by a Democrat, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), on May 27, 2010 failed 193 – 231. 57 Republicans supported the amendment, or 33% of the caucus. Thus close to half of the new Republican caucus voted to cut the engine compared to a third last year.
A second interesting harbinger was an amendment by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to cut an, albeit modest, $18.75 million (million, not billion) from the defense budget. This amendment failed by a relatively narrow 207 – 233 on February 15, 2011, with 92 Republicans voting yes and 148 no. The amendment might have passed, but 75 Democrats voted against Flake.
Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) was willing to go much further, brazenly offering an amendment to cut the defense and homeland security budgets by 3.5%, or about $18 billion. Now, $18 billion is not the $100 billion per year proposed by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and the Sustainable Defense Task Force in June 2010, but it is not chump change either. His amendment was crushed 68 – 357 on February 11. Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly opposed his amendment, but 22 Republicans voted for it.
Those 22 Republicans are true hard core defense budget cutters: Amash (MI), Barton (TX), Campbell (CA), Chabot (OH), Coble (NC), Duncan (TN), Flake (AZ), Graves (GA), Heller (NV), Johnson (IL), Labrador (ID), Lummis (WY), Manzullo (IL), McClintock (CA), Petri (WI), Rohrabacher (CA), Rokita (IN), Royce (CA), Sensenbrenner (WI), Stearns (FL), Upton (MI) and Walsh (IL).
The 92 Republicans who voted for the Flake amendment might be labeled soft core defense budget cutters:
[Alexander, Amash, Bachmann, Barton, Bass, Blackburn, Bono Mack, Boustany, Brady, Broun, Burgess, Campbell, Cassidy, Chabot, Chaffetz, Coble, Dent, Dold, Duffy, Duncan, Ellmers, Fitzpatrick, Flake, Flores, Fortenberry, Franks, Garrett, Gibson, Gohmert, Goodlatte, Graves, Griffith, Guinta, Hanna, Harris, Hayworth, Heller, Hensarling, Herger, Herrera Beutler, Huelskamp, Huizenga, Hurt, Jenkins, Johnson, Jones, Labrador, Landry, Lummis, Daniel E. Lungren, Mack, Manzullo, McClintock, Mica, Miller, Miller, Gary Miller, Mulvaney, Myrick, Neugebauer, Paul, Paulsen, Pearce, Pence, Petri, Pitts, Platts, Poe, Pompeo, Quayle, Rehberg, Reichert, Rogers, Rohrabacher, Rokita, Royce, Ryan, Schweikert, Scott, Austin Scott, Sensenbrenner, Shimkus, Smith, Stearns, Stutzman, Terry, Upton, Walberg, Walsh, Woodall, Yoder, Young]
These Republicans probably define the universe of a target group for future amendments aimed at the defense budget – or, perhaps, ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I do not count weapons program cuts quite the same way, as those Members with jobs at stake in their districts may vote for a program regardless of their budget cutting instincts. I also did not count weapons system votes offered by Democrats, because of my strong belief that any successful amendment will have to be offered by a Republican and a moderate-appearing Democrat.
The rhetoric that went along with the amendments was also instructive.
When Flake introduced his provision, he argued: “I realize the amount of savings in this amendment is relatively small compared to the overall defense budget, but I think the point has to be made here that the defense budget is not sacrosanct.”
Rep. Mike Pampeo (R-KS), in discussing the Flake effort, added: “As a former soldier, there is nothing I care more about than making sure we take care of our airmen, our sailors, our marines. I think it is a great place to start to make sure we do just that by eliminating this from the Department of Defense appropriations bill.”
Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL) chimed in: “I believe we have to talk and look at every single department, including the Department of Defense.”
These sentiments could have been expressed by liberal Democrats.
When Rep. Campbell (R-CA offered his deeper cut, he suggested: “We cannot reduce our deficit substantially and deal with our debt problem without reducing the costs of our number one [entitlements] and number two expenses. This amendment deals with number two, which are the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.”
In supporting the Campbell amendment, Rep. Duncan (R-TN) posited: “We can no longer afford to have higher military spending than all the other nations of the world combined.”
On February 16, while the Continuing Resolution was on the House floor, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen (USN). At times, one might have though that Rafael DeGennaro or Christopher Hellman were asking the questions.
Representative J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) was on his high horse about the Pentagon’s failure to get its books in shape so they can pass an audit:
“One of the things that we saw on January the 26th, when your deputy secretary, Mr. Lynn, was here, he testified that the department had failed to comply with the law requiring audited financial statements be filed annually in the years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, all years, of course, that you were secretary of defense. And my first question is, for any of those years — 2007, ‘8, ‘9, or ’10 — were you unaware that the law required that DOD file audited financial statements?”
Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX), a Certified Public Accountant in private life, piled on about the failure of the Pentagon to get its books straight:
“I wish we had the same kind of commitment to auditing this Department of Defense’s financial statements and/or — or just a statement of receipts and disbursements that we have to greening the military . . . I go home to folks in West Texas and when they find out that the Department of Defense can’t be audited, they are stunned.”
All this adds up to the following: there is an anti-spending fervor among House Republicans that extends beyond domestic programs and entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) to defense
This fervor does not guarantee victory in the future in the House, but it does offer the potential for victory with the right amendment, the right sponsors and the right timing.