HASC and Deficit Reductions: The Enemy Is Us

May 12, 2011

Responsible leaders from both parties recognize that defense cuts must be part of a deficit reduction package. As Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn explained yesterday, “The defense budget alone cannot solve our deficit crisis. But it’s hard to envision an overall solution – either economically or politically – that does not include some contribution from the 20 percent of government spending that goes toward defense.” Yesterday the lack of coherent House leadership on the issue again came to the fore. While the House Appropriations Committee passed a budget including modest Pentagon cuts, the House Armed Services Committee was busy adding back programs the Pentagon doesn’t want and relitigating policy issues – from “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to nuclear reductions to the scope of the military response to terrorism – which are ideological distractions from the pragmatic business of building a lean, effective military and getting our economy moving again.

House Armed Services Committee continues to fund programs defense and military leaders don’t want. While the House Appropriations Committee passed a $530 billion base budget for the Pentagon, the House Armed Services Committee passed a $553 billion baseline budget last night, highlighting the split between House Republicans on where and how much to cut.

Back from the dead: the F136 “alternate” engine. DoD Buzz reports, “Members of both parties voted for a provision that would oblige [the Defense Department] to pay for the F136 if it wants funding next year for the F-35′s propulsion systems, and to require DoD to give GE and Rolls access to whatever government-owned equipment and data they need to keep developing the F136 on their own, as they’ve offered to do.” This program has been killed by both Houses, and even the Department of Defense doesn’t want it. “In our view it is a waste of taxpayer money that can be used to fund higher departmental priorities, and should be ended now,” the Defense Department wrote in a statement issuing a stop-work order on the engine last March. [DoD Buzz, 5/11/11. Defense Department statement via CNN, 3/24/11]

Funds the Pentagon can’t spend: GMD Missile Defense. The Hill reports, “GOP members of the House Armed Services Committee want to tack [a $100 million cash infusion] onto the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense program (GMD), for which the Obama administration asked $1.2 billion in its 2012 defense spending request… [Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA)] said the Missile Defense Agency Director, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, told her on Tuesday that even if his agency got the additional funds for the program, the project is not at a point to spend the funds on its planned 2012 work.” The measure passed on Wednesday. [The Hill, 5/11/11, 5/12/11]

House Armed Services Committee mixes budget debate with attempts to reopen past, bipartisan policy decisions.

Obstructing repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” On Wednesday, conservative members of Congress passed three amendments aimed at slowing the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The first would require all four service chiefs to sign off on repeal, in addition to the president, secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Under the second, “same-sex marriages would be prohibited at any military installation, and chaplains and civilian employees of the Defense Department are barred from ‘acting in an official capacity’ at a same-sex marriage.” The third “reaffirmed that same-sex marriages are not marriages under federal law.” Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen has said the question of repealing the policy “comes down to integrity – theirs [gay servicemembers] as individuals and ours as an institution.” [Army Times, 5/12/11. Adm. Mullen via CBS News, 2/2/10]

Conditioning New START reductions. Although the New START treaty with Russia, and the nuclear reductions it mandates, were strongly supported by the Pentagon, The Hill reports that, “The [HASC] committee engaged in a sometimes-testy partisan debate over various amendments brought by Republicans that would put a number of stipulations on the New START nuclear weapons reduction treaty the Obama administration hammered out last year with Russia… The House Armed Services panel approved several amendments that would require presidential notification if specific aspects of the nation’s nuclear targeting strategy are changed and keep ‘forward-deployed nuclear forces … based in Europe.’ Another New START amendment would limit the executive branch’s ability to spend funds between 2011 and 2017 to retire any system covered by the U.S.-Russia treaty.” [The Hill, 5/12/11]

Expanding the Authorization for Military Force (AUMF). Surprisingly, with Osama bin Laden dead less than two weeks, the HASC bill contains language that expands the scope of the military response to terrorism. Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo reports, “The new language eschews references to September 11, and instead centers the authorization on ‘armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces,’ though ‘associated forces’ is not defined. It replaces the authority to target ‘organizations’ and ‘persons’ domestically with the power to target ‘all entities that continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens, both domestically and abroad.’ Democrats and advocates highlight these seemingly subtle changes and argue that they will allow the President to initiate military action even more broadly, and without the consent of Congress — effectively perpetuating the war indefinitely.” [TPM, 5/11/11]

What We’re Reading

Security forces have broken up a demonstration by thousands of students in Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city.

At least 10 people protesting the rule of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh were killed and 226 injured after security forces opened fire on thousands of anti-government demonstrations in several cities across the country.

The Pentagon is considering allowing the families of detainees at Guantanamo Bay visitation rights.

British Prime Minister David Cameron invited the Libyan rebel council to open an office in London after talks with its leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil.

France has decided to cancel all of Togo’s debt, amounting to some 100 million Euros, in a bid to encourage the West African nation to pursue economic reforms.

Honduras’ former President Manuel Zelaya – ousted two years ago – wants to return home, his aides say.

Australia has charged a man with 89 counts of people smuggling after up to 50 asylum seekers died when their boat smashed into rocks off Christmas Island last year.

Pakistani opposition leaders called for an independent investigation into why the Pakistani military was unaware of the U.S. assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound.

At least eight are dead and thousands were forced from their homes in Spain, following a 5.1 magnitude earthquake that struck the city of Lorca.

Commentary of the Day

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says that how we treat detainees reflects not just our national interests but who we are.

Fareed Zakaria argues that with bin Laden dead, now is the time to push to strengthen democracy in Pakistan.

Joshua Keating offers a primer on popular Republican attack lines on President Obama’s foreign policy.

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