Curious how defense spending was left on the table instead of contributing meaningfully to the debt ceiling deal? Hiding in plain sight is a Saturday afternoon press conference by Reps. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Bill Young (R-FL), respectively chairmen of the House’s Armed Services Committee and Defense Appropriations subcommittee. Neither seemed deterred by speaking to an almost empty room – their message really was a warning to House Speaker John Boehner.
McKeon tossed out one dire warning after another to open the hearing. The result? According to the New York Times “Congressional and administration officials attributed the delay [Sunday afternoon] to efforts by Mr. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, to limit immediate reductions in the Pentagon budget…” Or to Businessweek: “Privately, officials said a final sticking point concerned possible cuts in the nation's defense budget in the next two years. Republicans wanted less.”
Strangely enough, the few reporters witnessing this warning shot missed the real story. Asked “What is your message to Mitch McConnell [Republicans’ lead Senate negotiator] in terms of where you are going to compromise and where you are not?,” McKeon’s answer was:
"We will not cut below this line of $439 billion dollars."
Stunning. Yesterday the administration took credit for a ten-year $350 billion dollar defense cut. The President’s April 13th speech targeted $400 billion over twelve years. Then-Secretary Gates offered $78 and tried to claim $100 more in his February budget request. No one has yet gone to $439 billion, though, which would amount to a real, if very small, cut even relative to the President’s tone-deaf FY2012 submission.
Come again? Are we starting to see signals of compromise buried in the long-stale advocacy coming from House Republican’s defense institutions? Or did Buck McKeon just get away with a misstep?