Defense Spending: Barney Frank Weighs In

Defense Spending: Barney Frank Weighs In

Defense Spending: Barney Frank Weighs In

Don’t expect anything to change at the Department of Defense in 2012.


If you’re holding your breath waiting for Mitt Romney’s foreign policy speech today, here’s a hint: don’t. Keep breathing, because you’ll need all your breath to laugh as RMoney speaks about his vision of, well, who knows? Meanwhile, on a serious note, there’s a lot to say about defense and Pentagon spending.

As I wrote for The Nation in 2011, it’s not likely that there will be substantive defense cuts before the 2012 election, though in 2013 it’s very possible. There is, of course, the endless debate over sequestration, but I don’t think that Congress will allow that to happen. (We’ll see.)

But first of all, God bless Barney Frank et al.:

A bipartisan commission appointed by Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.) laid out ways on Friday to eliminate almost $1 trillion in defense spending over the next decade.

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, a commission of scholars from a broad ideological spectrum appointed by Frank, the House Financial Services Committee chairman, laid out options the government could take that could save as much as $960 billion between 2011 and 2020.

Yes, they do this every year—and yes, this time, too, it’s not going anywhere. But as I’ve pointed out in The Nation, more and more conservatives (and not just kooks like Ron Paul but Grover Norquist, cut-the-budget types, too) are buying in to the idea that the defense budget is bloated.

Now and then, there are small surprises, like this one, suggesting that quite a few Republicans aren’t wedded to infinite Pentagon spending:

In a surprise move, 89 Republicans joined 158 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to vote in favor of reducing the Pentagon’s budget by $1.1 billion for 2013. The vote was held during debate of the defense appropriations bill, which the House passed July 19. The decline in spending was brought about through an amendment co-sponsored by Tea Party Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of the House’s most liberal members.

Okay, I get it. It’s only $1.1 billion. Still, when many hawks are calling to expand Pentagon spending—and listen to RMoney’s speech today, too, on that score—it’s a sign of things to come.

In contrast, here are RMoney’s top two defense advisers, from an op-ed urging the United States to build a much bigger Navy:

A shrunken defense budget, for which the “pivot” [to Asia] is nothing more than a fig leaf, undercuts other aspects of the administration’s foreign policy. A strong military engenders equally strong alliances, and bolsters the force of our diplomacy. There is much symbolism, and more than a little irony, in the fact that we are pointing our military power toward the setting sun. This irony should not be lost on the American people. It clearly will not be lost on our enemies.

No, but it’s lost on me.

What you ought to read is Winslow Wheeler’s sterling account of recent Congressional hearings on defense spending, including testimony from the poobahs of the military-industrial complex.

And if you’re interested, take a look at Defense Secretary Leon “Doomsday” Panetta, who seems utterly committed to military spending—at least through the election—in a DOD release on his meeting with virtually the entire military-industrial complex (also known as the “defense industrial base”):

Secretary Panetta and senior members of his acquisition and budget team met today with leaders of the defense industrial base task force, organized by the Aerospace Industries Association, the Professional Services Council, and the National Defense Industrial Association.

The meeting continues a regular dialogue Panetta and departmental leaders conduct with defense industry. For this meeting, the devastating impact of sequestration on the defense industrial base and key domestic sectors was the top item on the agenda.

Panetta told industry representatives that his focus continues to be on preventing sequestration by urging Congress to achieve responsible deficit reduction. He emphasized the impossibility of planning for a sequester in a way that avoids its harmful impacts. There was agreement between the secretary and the CEOs that sequestration will do tremendous harm to domestic and national security programs across the board.

Panetta further emphasized the department will remain focused on implementing the strategy-driven budget it has developed. He said that maintaining a strong, vibrant and innovative defense industrial base is one of his top long-term strategic priorities as secretary of defense.

If Panetta sticks around after the election (assuming President Obama wins), it’ll take a lot of kicks in the rear to get him moving.

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