February 16, 2011

Obama's a military backer now?

Obama + Military = Tight.
President Obama is playing hardball on budget cuts with the Republicans in Congress, threatening to veto anything that jeopardizes defense budgets. It's unclear where that sudden concern about national defense arose from a President who seems to be okay with a porous border and has never been big on military spending (as opposed to social programs). 

From Politico today;
President Barack Obama signaled his openness to larger deficit-reduction talks with Congress on Tuesday but drew a sharp line at the immediate spending cuts proposed by the House, even suggesting that Republicans were jeopardizing the Pentagon’s ability to “meet vital military requirements.”

The thinly veiled veto threat was delivered in a formal statement of administration policy just hours after debate opened in the House on the Republican plan.

President Obama is playing politics. Nobody paying any attention believes he's become a staunch hawk and defender of the DOD.  He simply is using defense as a reason because it helps gain him some credibility at the margins (i.e. among casual observers) as being strong on defense.  The idea is that it may attract back some independent voters or at least draw them back into the ranks of the undecided.

Timing is everything in politics.  As if in support of the notion that defense spending is in danger, the U.S. Department of Defense (USDOD) released this today;
WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2011 – While acknowledging a tougher financial reality, the Defense Department’s top financial official yesterday warned of a disruption in war funding and other likely effects if Congress continues to force the military to operate on continuing resolutions instead of fully funded budgets for fiscal 2011 and 2012.

In a “DOD Live” bloggers roundtable yesterday, Pentagon Comptroller Robert F. Hale explained President Barack Obama’s $671 billion fiscal 2012 budget request for the Defense Department and detailed potential effects if the military must continue operating without a fully funded fiscal 2011 budget. 
Although DOD officials continue to look aggressively for opportunities to cut and save, Hale said, Congress must give the department sufficient funding. Budgetary delays with continuing resolutions, he added, would pose a national security problem.

“We face a significant problem in the current fiscal year,” he said. “We are on a continuing resolution, … and a year-long continuing resolution would pose serious problems for us. It wouldn’t provide enough resources to properly meet our national security requirements [and] would feature a $23 billion cut compared to our proposal.”

Hale said funding via continuing resolution would limit the military’s discretionary spending power, reducing managerial flexibility and the procurement of assets. Some 50 “shovel-ready” military construction projects continue to be delayed by continuing resolution funding, he noted, and the Army recently froze hiring of civilian personnel, leaving positions vacant for tank mechanics and the like.
On the other hand, it's not as if there aren't opportunities to save and do things smarter at the DOD. Also today from the USDOD;
ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 16, 2011 - The Defense Department's joint strike fighter program is on track to field the F-35 Lightning II in fiscal 2016, the program's director said here yesterday.

In remarks to the National Aeronautics Association, Navy Vice Adm. David Venlet said that although changes made to the program in January extended flight testing and slowed development by about a year at an additional cost of $4.6 billion, the program has made progress over the past year.
Defense spending is something that needs to be considered very carefully.  Defense of the nation and its citizens is the primary duty of government (as opposed to the National Endowment for the Arts).  But the President using the Defense Department as a reason for not wanting to cut spending is at a minimum, misleading.  President Obama's State of the Union speech promised to freeze non-discretionary domestic spending.  The implication was that defense was not included in that proposal. Now the President is playing tough and trying to grandstand on defense.  It won't work - Republicans will likely do the right thing even if the optics might look bad in the short run.  Nobody wants a weakened national defense and Republicans aren't going to focus their efforts in that area despite what the President is trying to imply.

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