Will Republican Gains Pump Up the Pentagon?

November 09, 2010

On first blush, it would appear that Republican gains in yesterday's elections would be good news for the Pentagon -- and for big contractors like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. For example, Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), who is likely to chair the House Armed Services Committee, has said that "Our citizens have spoken, and they want a defense budget that is sufficient to address the challenges of today and tomorrow. One percent real growth in the base defense budget [the amount being sought by Robert Gates and the Obama administration] is a net reduction for modernization efforts which are critical to protecting our nation's homeland." And Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is likely to be the next chair of the House Budget Committee, managed to put together a 99 page "roadmap" for deficit reduction that doesn't utter a peep about reducing military spending, which rivals Social Security as the largest item in the overall budget and accounts for 56% of the federal government's discretionary budget. But these new Republican leaders won't have the last word on the subject by any means.

First, there is the question of divided government. President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate will have their say on levels of military spending, and they are unlikely to sign off on the kinds of increases that McKeon and his allies are likely to support (among those allies are Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, each of which have a major presence in McKeon's district, bringing home over $1 billion in annual Pentagon contracts). That's the good news. The troubling news is that the Obama administration itself is seeking 1% real growth on top of a military budget is already at post-World War II highs. But it's not all in their hands either, as I'll explain in a moment.

What about "We the People," the citizenry that the Tea Party folks act as it they are the sole representatives of? Would they stand still for defense cuts in the name of deficit reduction? Probably so, if two recent surveys are to be believed. The first, an informal survey done by CNBC, found that 63% of respondents named defense as their first priority for cuts if cuts are needed to reduce the deficit. This was an unscientific survey (on their web site, with a self-selected group of respondents), but it is an interesting piece of information nonetheless. At a more rigorous level, a new Financial Times/Gallup poll found that about two-thirds of Americans either think cutting defense to close the deficit gap is a good idea (29%) or "neither good nor bad" (36%). That still leaves over a third of the country that thinks cutting defense is a bad idea. So, if real cuts were proposed, it would all come down to who cares the most about their stated position (i.e.., enough to act on it in some way), and whether some of the "neither here nor there" group could be persuaded to change positions in one direction or another. So, it's complicated, but it hardly reflects a country that is clamoring for increases in Pentagon spending, as Buck McKeon has suggested.

Originally posted at TPMCafe on November 3, 2010. The rest can be read here.

Posted by coalition at November 9, 2010 03:24 PM

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