Hypocrite in Chief
Cuts to defense and military spending should reflect a principled commitment to reducing wasteful spending, crony capitalism, and the size and scope of the part of the federal government with all the bullets and bombs — it should not be a matter of political convenience.
When congressional leaders sparred over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling last year, the parties agreed that if Congress failed to come up with a deficit reduction plan, automatic triggers would kick in, and would sequester $1.2 trillion in spending across the federal budget (mandatory and discretionary; defense and non-defense). That agreement, which came to fruition almost exactly a year ago to the day, reflected a trade the president made with House Republicans: he gave up demanding revenue increases in exchange for an agreement to include defense spending in sequestration. Speaker of the House John Boehner reluctantly agreed, making sure no triggers would go into effect until January 2, 2013.
Fast forward to June 2012, when defense contractors in the Washington metropolitan area, including northern Virginia and southern Maryland, announced they would need to notify their employees of layoffs just before Election Day this November. Federal law requires that these contractors provide employees with 60 days’ notice before terminating them, so announcing a massive round of layoffs — estimated to be over 2 million jobs — just before the election is merely an odd coincidence.
But it certainly doesn’t look good for the president politically.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), normally one of the president’s most supportive and most progressive allies, called sequestration of defense spending “penny wise” but “pound foolish,” according to Kimberly Strassel at the Wall Street Journal today:
Jobs, and his own re-election, were on Mr. Brown’s tortured mind this week, when he publicly called on the president to do something about Defense Department cuts that threaten to shutter his state’s Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base—and with it, 1,000 jobs. The cuts might be “penny wise,” griped the senator, but they were “pound foolish.”
That was the rebuke that greeted Mr. Obama as he landed in Mansfield for a campaign stop. An editorial in the Mansfield News Journal demanded that the president “explain to the people of Mansfield why the U.S. government wants to eliminate” their jobs and base. A colonel in the local Ohio Air National Guard parked C-27J aircraft (up for elimination) on the tarmac, so Mr. Obama had to see them as Air Force One landed.
Senator Brown voted in favor of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which contained the defense sequestration provisions, and the president signed the bill into law on August 2, 2011.
The Obama administration has now taken up running political cover for the president on the issue. In a July 30, 2012 letter (PDF), the Department of Labor leaned on defense contractors to not issue notices to employees in compliance with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (the WARN Act), arguing that the WARN Act doesn’t apply to sequestration.
This is a glaring case of having one’s cake and eating it too.
Senate Democrats and the president were eager to put defense and military spending on the chopping block — certainly a laudible goal, as defense and military spending deserve scrutiny in any serious deficit reduction scheme, particularly at a time when defense and military spending (not including war supplementals) account for well over half of all discretionary spending, and near $1 trillion annually. President Obama was eager to score political points last year, framing himself as a grand bargainer who could overcome congressional partisanship to secure passage of legislation. Thus, the Budget Control Act of 2011 became law. Now that the proverbial chickens have come home to roost, our Hypocrite in Chief is scrambling to prevent the politically disastrous optics of trying to explain two million more lost jobs just days before Americans cast their votes this fall.
Of course, if the most permanent campaigner in history had sought and agreed to defense cuts as a matter of principle, rather than for political convenience … well, we might not be having this discussion.