Twenty Republican senators have requested that the Senate Armed Services Committee launch an investigation into reports that the Obama White House threatened to close Nebraska's Offutt Air Force base unless Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson fell into line on health care. Those reports first appeared on this blog. In the letter to Senators Levin and McCain, the committee chairman and ranking member, the 20 ask that "a hearing be held as to whether the BRAC process has been compromised."
Meanwhile, both Nelson and the White House strenuously deny the allegation. A statement from White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer asserts "This rumor is absolutely false, as the people spreading it well know. This is nothing but a cynical, crass political game that is designed to maintain the status quo. Let's be clear: the people spreading these falsehoods think nothing is wrong with a system under which families and businesses continue to bear the brunt of skyrocketing costs, insurance companies are allowed to discriminate and drop at will, and thousands of Americans lose their coverage every single day."
They protest a little too much. I do not know this story is "absolutely false." To the contrary, I'm confident it's true. Twenty senators are now calling for an investigation, and each is presumably pretty well sourced in the Senate. If the charges are "absolutely false," maybe the White House will encourage Senate Democrats to call this Republican bluff. I won't hold my breath.
What is absolutely true is that the threat itself is clumsy. The Base Realignment and Closure Process won't get started again for a couple of years, and Offutt is a nearly irreplaceable piece of America's national security infrastructure. Still, this White House does sometimes see national security issues in terms of jobs created or saved. They're closing Gitmo and moving hardened al Qaeda terrorists into your neighborhood? Don't worry, that's 3,000 jobs created or saved. You're not going to vote for health care? That's 11,000 jobs your state just lost!
The desperation of the White House -- caving to Lieberman, threatening Nelson, attacking Dean -- is what's most striking. This is not the behavior of a team assured of their position and confident in the outcome. This is the behavior of team that is standing "on the precipice," and about to fall into a ravine. And Nelson still hasn't said he will vote for the bill.