Enough Pentagon Spending? | Of Mice and Men | Texas Hold ’em | He’s Back

Enough Pentagon Spending?—A perpetually growing defense budget is an institutional imperative at the Pentagon. Yet lost in House Armed Services Committee testimony on Afghanistan was a rare bit of news. Defense Secretary Gates has discretionary funds that can be used for additional troops in Afghanistan—even if the defense budget is cut. This from General Jack Keane (Ret. U.S. Army) in response to Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA). Like most House Republicans, Forbes used every forum available to attack the economic stimulus bill. At a February 12 hearing, the Virginia Republican warned that the stimulus bill will require broad budget cuts and asked Keane if a “reduced defense budget can support what we have to do in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Keane worked on defense budgets while he was an Army vice-chief of staff, before retiring in 2003, and in 2007 was coauthor of a policy paper that made the case for increasing troop strength in Iraq by 30,000 (“the surge”). He refused to take Forbes’s bait. “Operational dollars won’t be cut,” Keane said. “Secretary Gates has discretion in the capital investment account for new weapons and programs.” The Defense Department, the general said, “will have to make hard choices, but they will make do with the money that’s available to them.”

Of Mice and Men—House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey (D-WI) was angry and impassioned when he brought the stimulus package to the House floor for a final vote. Obey pointed to lies that had been circulated by the bill’s opponents (money for mice, earmarks for high-speed rail, etc. Republican Study Group chair Tom Price of Georgia held up a toy mouse during a speech on the House floor). Obey quoted a partisan memo that urged House Republicans to attack Democrats like swarms of mosquitoes. He said that Republicans had succeeded in trivializing the legislation. Obey admitted the House-Senate compromise created 1 million fewer jobs than the original House bill, because of trade-offs made to win the support of three Senate Republicans. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) was one of seven House Democrats to vote against the bill. His critique of the $326 billion tax cuts and the damage done to the bill to persuade Republican Senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Arlen Specter to vote for it was spot on. Yet Obey was equally correct in urging House members to vote for a deeply flawed bill. The stimulus bill is posted at http://appropriations.house.gov. A random sampling suggests where the money went: $2.5 billion for rural electrification; $5.5 billion for renovation of federal buildings, much of it dedicated to energy-saving green construction; $5.1 billion to clean up toxic defense facilities; $4.5 billion to modernize the nation’s electric grid; $1 billion for community policing; $1.4 billion for rural wastewater and waste disposal; $1.1 billion for Head Start early childhood education; $13 billion for education for the economically disadvantaged; billions more for military construction. The bill includes provisions that place short time limits on many of the spending items, to push the money into an economy in which private sector spending has dried up. If the stimulus package includes something for everyone, it is far less effective than the original version on which Obey had been working since November. Republicans’ success in the next two elections is tied to the failure of the stimulus package. They succeeded in weakening it and by doing so improved their prospects.

Texas Hold ’em—Texas is in line for an estimated $37.3 billion of the $787 billion in the economic stimulus package. Yet as the bill moved through Congress, the state’s Republican governor, Rick Perry, was threatening to refuse the money. Perry doesn’t have a political future beyond the office he now holds, so give him credit for ideological resolve. He probably will be challenged in the 2010 primary by U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. In response to threats made by Perry and South Carolina governor Mark Sanford to refuse the money, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) added a bypass provision that allows state legislatures to spend the money if governors fail to act within 45 days. South Carolina is scheduled to receive $7.7 billion.

He’s Back—Arizona Senator John McCain is running again. Not for the presidency (lately it seems as if he never stopped) but for his Senate seat. The first policy speech of his campaign, “Winning the War in Afghanistan,” was scheduled for February 25 at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. McCain will not, however, be speaking at the (extremely) Conservative Political Action Conference at the end of this month. Sarah Palin is the marquee name at the annual event in Washington, D.C. Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul are also on the list.