Members of Congress and their staff who know and care about defense are somewhere between alarmed and panicked at the emerging shape of the debt ceiling deal. (Consider this amazing on-the-record statement by Senator Joe Lieberman’s communications director to Jennifer Rubin just a few minutes ago: “Senator Lieberman is very concerned about rumors that the debt agreement now being negotiated will disproportionately cut defense spending and result in unacceptably high risk to our national security.”)
One of the great virtues of the Boehner bill that passed the House is that it more or less protects defense from further immediate cuts, and, since it has no trigger, there’s no presumption of future cuts either. Now defense is on the chopping block. The negotiations are moving away from Boehner toward Reid in terms of immediate defense cuts—and the trigger mechanism that’s being discussed could produce massive defense cuts in the out years. As one well plugged-in observer put it to me, in the talks right now, on defense, it’s now four against one on defense—Obama, Reid, Pelosi, and McConnell are all more or less happy to use defense as a cash cow or as a trading chip for other issues, and Boehner’s having trouble holding the line by himself.
Now it may be that the speaker is having more success than I’m being led to believe, and/or is getting good support from Senator McConnell. But if not, if defense is being put at risk, the speaker should first insist that his colleagues watch the video of Allen West discussing the consequences of a hollow military. Then the speaker should walk away from a deal if the price is gutting defense.