Political Animal


January 10, 2013 9:43 AM Defense Hawks Swoop

By Ed Kilgore

John Boehner should probably stop doing interviews.

His reported talk with the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore that was published Monday under the provocative title “The Education of John Boehner” (an illusion, I am confident, to William Greider’s famous “The Education of David Stockman” piece in late 1981 that nearly got Stockman fired as Reagan’s budget director) is continuing to cause him problems. Intended, presumably, to convey a sadder-but-wiser-and-tougher sense of his negotiating posture on fiscal issues after the “fiscal cliff” deal, the story got lots of attention for Boehner’s assertion that “the tax issue is resolved,” and some for his depiction of the stark differences between himself and the president on every basic fiscal and economic issue.

But the part of the story that’s biting him in the butt right now involves the spending sequestration that was recently delayed for two months, and that had been widely considered a leverage point for the White House with Republicans, given their frantic desire to spare the Pentagon any cuts. The Hill’s Russell Berman and Jeremy Herb explain:

In his interview with The Wall Street Journal, Boehner said that during the late stages of the fiscal-cliff negotiations, it was the White House — and not Republican leaders — that demanded a delay in the $109 billion in scheduled 2013 cuts evenly split between defense and domestic discretionary programs. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Vice President Biden ultimately agreed to push the sequester back by two months, partially offsetting it with other spending cuts and leaving $85 billion in remaining 2013 cuts in place.
The Speaker suggested the sequester was a stronger leverage point for Republicans than the upcoming deadline to raise the debt ceiling, for which he is insisting on spending cuts and reforms that exceed the amount in new borrowing authority for the Treasury. Therefore, the willingness of Republicans to allow the sequester to take effect is “as much leverage as we’re going to get,” Boehner told the Journal.

Negotiating 101 tells you that you don’t make that kind of assertion unless you’ve got your ducks in a row and know you won’t be undercut by the people you claim to be speaking for. It seems Boehner did not do any of those things:

House Republican defense hawks are pushing back strongly against Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) claim that he has GOP support to allow steep automatic budget cuts to take effect if President Obama does not agree to replace them with other reductions….
Not so fast, two defense-minded House Republicans told The Hill.
“I don’t support that,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a member of the Armed Services Committee whose district includes one of the nation’s largest military installations. “You get into dangerous territory when you talk about using national security as a bargaining chip with the president…”
One defense-minded Republican lawmaker said Boehner’s position would amount to a broken promise to his conference.
“In order to get the Republican Conference to pass the debt-limit increase last time, he promised them sequestration would not go in place,” the Republican House member said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “To be using sequestration and these defense cuts in the next debt-limit talks certainly is pretty bad déjà vu for the Republican Conference.”

So all Boehner really accomplished in his boast to Stephen Moore was supplying further evidence that he had it backwards: Obama has the leverage on the defense sequester, and Boehner is just blustering.

You know, there’s a natural tendency to think that people who have risen to the top of any profession are reasonably bright, and are advised by dazzlingly bright folk who truly earn their bloated salaries as strategic wizards. Time and again, that turns out not to be so true.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Anonymous on January 10, 2013 9:55 AM:

    Allusion, not illusion.

  • boatboy_srq on January 10, 2013 10:06 AM:

    There are few things that push the GOTea to spend money like new toys for their boys and girls in uniform. Republicans in DoD discussions sound like spoiled children talking about visits to FAO Schwarz.

    We should remind the GOTea at every step in this "negotiation" that the DoD portion of the sequestration was the stick the GOTea themselves selected to encourage agreement on the budget, and they chose cuts in defense spending over new revenues. If they're truly serious about federal overspending then they need to STFU and accept what they agreed to. And if they insist on restoring DoD funding without added revenue to support it (because there's no way to obtain those funds and reduce the spending even with every single "entitlement" summarily cancelled), then all their deficit and debt whinging is pure posturing - and that needs to be spelled out in crystal clear terms to all the electorate.

  • BillFromPA on January 10, 2013 10:11 AM:

    Boehner has a long history, as Speaker, of publicly making proposals before getting the necessary votes, only to have to retreat in shame when his own party undercuts him. His 'Plan B' which went down in flames a few weeks back is only the latest, I can't recite chapter and verse off the top of my head at the monment, but there were several more earlier in his Speakership. You'd think he'd learn, but that would require sober judgement.

  • c u n d gulag on January 10, 2013 10:23 AM:

    Oh, yeah, all of our Galtian Overlords and their political minion's, are so much smarter and harder working than we are!

    Two days ago, Woody Johnson, of Johnson & Johnson fame, and owner of the NY Jets - a week after firing the GM - decided to keep Rex Ryan, the Head Coach.
    Which, is exactly 'bass-ackward's' btw - which means you're now making the Coach the guy leading your team, instead of the GM.
    No self-respecting GM will join the team, knowing that he's already stuck with a Coach for at least a year or two - and maybe more, because, Woody sure loves him some Sexy Rexy - because he's a MSM magnet.

    He said that his years of business experience had taught him that, 'blahdy-blah-blah-blah..."

    Yes, Woody, 3rd or 4th generation Johnson, and born on 3rd base, thinking he'd hit a triple, YOUR business experience!
    And what was that, exactly?
    Spending your whole career trying to figure out how NOT to blow through billions of dollars in inherited money?

    Boehner's stuck as Speaker, because the even bigger sociopath's didn't want to deal with the job of trying to herd the psychotic patients, known as Republican Congresscritters, who keep trying to burn the mental asylum down to the ground, just for sh*t's and giggles, and just because, apparently, they can - at least according to our Founding Fathers, who didn't know about mental illness, since they pre-dated Freud by a century.

  • Anonymous on January 10, 2013 10:36 AM:

    And to think a mere 12 years ago we had a budget surplus projected to pay off the debt altogether by this time. Wow, what a difference tax giveaways to the rich, unfunded programs to big pharma, decoupling investment banking and commercial banking, and a totally unnecessary war make.

    Republicans love waxing nostalgic about the good 'ol days, so why doesn't Washington talk about reinstituting the budgets of 1999-2000? I also remember there being an assault weapon ban in affect during that time too. Time to turn back the clock on 2001-2008.

  • Ryan Seacrest on January 10, 2013 10:45 AM:

    So important to "defend America" while screwing Americans.

  • Steve LaBonne on January 10, 2013 11:03 AM:

    Bonehead is not just stupid, he's drunk stupid.

  • Peter C on January 10, 2013 11:06 AM:

    The military industrial complex is not a fictional thing; it exists and it is as strong as ever. Republicans in Washington and at the grass-roots level support it with chest-thumping and chants of ‘USA! USA!’. Democrats at the grass roots oppose it, but our leaders in Washington support it with heartfelt sighs and sly winks. Republicans are convinced to overspend by appeals to their national security fears. Democrats are convinced to overspend by appeals to Keynesian economic consequences (job losses from the Defense Industry). Both parties are lured by huge campaign contributions from defense industry lobbyists. The absurd size of our defense budgets makes these tempting contributions just a trivial drop in the bucket for them. They are a ‘cost’ that is built into their contracts.

    Rationalizing the size and expense of our military will be a herculean task, especially since the cuts in the sequester (although significant) only stabilize the size of the defense budget at their current mind-bogglingly astronomical levels. If the power of the insurance companies effectively limited the scope of conceivable health-reform options, what hope have we against the defense industry?

    So, what do we, at the grass-roots level, do?
    We must end the wars. Cuts in the military are hardest when there are soldiers on the field. Osama bin Laden is dead. Afghanistan is hopelessly corrupt and fractious. It’s time for us to leave.

    We must publicize the size of our defense budget compared to the rest of the world. No one else spends anything near as much as we. If all this expenditure were really protecting US, why would we need a whole other ‘Department of Homeland Security’? The truth is: the Defense Department is no longer protecting us from the threat of invasion; it exists to protect the overseas assets of the super-wealthy (American and foreign). The actual threat of invasion is nil. The oil on the Exxon tanker is not ‘ours’; it’s Exxon’s. We don’t own the gas until we buy it at the pump. It should be Exxon’s taxes which fund the military, not ours.

    We must paint pro-defense Republicans as COWARDS. The truly macho do not need to hold rocket-launchers in order to feel safe. The best way to combat terrorism is with CONFIDENCE.

    We’ve got to fix our economy. I think Obama is worried about cutting jobs. I think Obama is worried about overwhelming the domestic job market with returning soldiers. Until we remove these worries, we will hit a brick wall.

  • MuddyLee on January 10, 2013 11:18 AM:

    Anonymous and Peter C: dittoes (to coin a phrase...)

    Duncan Hunter: I believe you are confusing defense spending with national defense. When generals have a dozen assistants, and socialites are competing with each other to throw parties for said generals, and every new aircraft or weapons system goes way over budget and often doesn't work right under battle conditions, then MORE defense spending isn't the answer. Maybe smarter defense spending is needed - how about when top brass fly inside the US, they take commercial flights for a starter?

  • jhm on January 10, 2013 11:22 AM:

    To be fair to the distinguished Speaker, having geniuses like Hon. Rep. Duncan Hunter on you team is a bit of a handicap.

  • smartalek on January 10, 2013 4:18 PM:

    Anon, Peter C, MuddyLee: megadittoes

    (As long as we're coining terms here)

  • G.Kerby on January 10, 2013 5:01 PM:

    Peter C., you've become my favorite poster over the past few months. You are able to articulate my thoughts on so many topics far better than I could ever hope to.