Save 75% - Only $49.99 for 1 full year! digitalPLUS subscription offer ends 12/1
NewsOpinionOp-Eds

Supercommittee failure: Republicans lose their mantle as guardians of national defense

DefenseRepublican PartyDemocratic PartyNational SecurityMuammar Gaddafi

The American kabuki dance known as the Congressional supercommittee has ended where it started, with no deal on cutting $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit. What it has mostly accomplished is to underscore why public approval of Congress as a whole is mired at a ludicrous 9 percent in the polls.

At the outset, logic seemed to suggest that having only a dozen experienced cooks in the kitchen made more sense than having 535 pairs of hands in the pie. The fallacy was in believing or hoping that the distinguished dozen would manage to put aside the groupthink dominating each party and come to an agreement on a sensible compromise.

Instead, in spite of some timid initiatives on each side to break the roadblock between the Republicans' insistence on no tax increases and Democrats' insistence on no major entitlement cuts, the leaders on each side finally threw in the sponge. So unless there is a genuine softening of positions on one side or the other, or on both, over the next year, the automatic ax called sequestering will fall.

That's the fancy name for mandatory budget cuts across the board with few exemptions hitting all departments and agencies, including Defense. Heretofore the Pentagon has been regarded as untouchable, particularly by Republicans in Congress, who consider themselves the special guardians of national security.

Hence, it was of particular interest that a prominent Republican and former secretary of defense (albeit in the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton) has called on his former GOP colleagues in Congress to rescue the armed services by agreeing to larger tax increases.

William S. Cohen, a longtime member of the House and Senate from Maine, charged in the New York Times that his own party "is directly responsible" for the supercommittee's failure. It should have, he wrote, gone "much farther" in "bridging the gap with Democrats" over providing new revenue in return for sharper cuts in spending.

Mr. Cohen, one of the vanishing breed of moderate Republicans when he served in Congress, lauded the offer of Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a supercommittee member, to accept about $300 billion in tax increases in return for lower tax rates. But even that offer didn't go far enough, Mr. Cohen wrote, "to avert the possibility of disastrous cuts to our military."

Senator Toomey subsequently told the conservative Weekly Standard that the Democrats demanded $1 trillion in new taxes, unacceptable to his party. However, 33 members of the Republican Study Committee in the House had already sent a letter to the supercommittee demanding "no tax increase" at all.

Mr. Cohen wrote he has "long been concerned that my party's rigid antitax ideology is harming the fiscal health of our nation. Now it is harming our national security as well, as cuts in defense spending on a calamitous scale are about to be triggered." Mr. Cohen noted that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said he is already making cuts of $465 billion in the Defense budget and would have to swallow another $600 billion under the automatic sequester that would "truly devastate our national defense."

However, that view is not shared by many Democrats, who see in the deep cuts a vehicle for a desirable re-evaluation of the America's role in the post-Cold war world. With the American military involvement in Iraq coming to a close at the end of this year, and a similar winding down planned for Afghanistan, the Obama administration has taken a notable step back from the radical foreign policy of former President George W. Bush. President Obama's limited engagement in aiding the overthrow of Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi was a further move in reassessing America's role in global peacekeeping.

In those terms, the failure of the supercommittee to strike a bipartisan agreement that would avert the automatic cuts in defense provides a cover for members of Congress, particularly in the Democratic Party, who see the American military role already overextended. With a severe economic and unemployment crisis at home, a case can be made for a refocus on domestic needs, maintaining a military adequate to meet the realistic threats faced, rather than the adverturism and nation building of the recent past.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
DefenseRepublican PartyDemocratic PartyNational SecurityMuammar Gaddafi
  • Schaller fails to see danger of U.S. debt

    Columnist Thomas F. Schaller's analysis is incredibly myopic ("Avoiding Europe's austerity nightmare," April 18). To compare the economic condition of the U.S. to those of Greece or Spain at the beginning of the economic crisis is comparing apples and oranges.

  • Military spending is misplaced U.S. priority

    On April 17, I will be protesting war taxes at Baltimore's main post office. I realize that taxes fund many good programs — education, environment and diplomacy. But sadly when 57 percent of the federal budget goes to the Pentagon, the government's priorities are out of touch with the...

  • A better budget remedy than the Buffett rule

    You end your editorial on the Buffett Rule ("The Buffett Rule backlash," April 13) with the question, "Where will the $50 billion come from to balance the budget, if not from this minimum tax plan?"

  • Skeptical of Buffett and need for higher taxes

    First, I'm an 80-year-old living on Social Security, and I know all the tax loopholes need to be closed ("The Buffett Rule backlash," April 13). But isn't it correct that Warren Buffett owes the IRS a great deal of taxes for a number of years? Let's have a true picture of Mr. Buffett.

  • The Buffett Rule backlash
    The Buffett Rule backlash

    Our view: Taxing the wealthy at rates others already face wouldn't solve the nation's deficit, but it would restore a modicum of fairness to the tax code

  • Godless Republicans turn back on poor and sick

    Some churchmen take exception to some of President Barack Obama's positions on matters of faith. I suggest these men of faith take a closer look at the true meaning of religion. All three Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — have as their central theme the...

Comments
Loading