Jonathan Cohn

A Weak Defense

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[Guest post by John Judis]

In Politico today, there is a account of the negotiations between the Obama administration and the Republican leadership over the deal to raise the debt ceiling. According to Politico, the key issue dividing the two sides was about the distribution of spending cuts that would automatically take place next December if Congress can’t agree among themselves on what to cut. Specifically, it was over what percentage of the threatened cuts should go to defense. The Republicans wanted more cuts in domestic programs than in defense; the president insisted heroically on 50-50.

According to Politico, Vice President Joe Biden, negotiating on behalf of the administration, got what he wanted: 50-50 cuts in defense and domestic programs. And that’s what made it possible for him to sell the deal to Democratic leaders:

“The defense cuts sold them. Basically $800 to $900 billion of the $2.1 trillion is in defense or security cuts,” a senior Democratic aide told POLITICO. “Biden kept saying, that when all things were factored in, it was basically a 50-50 on defense and domestic spending cuts.”

As I read this, I asked myself: Whoever heard of a great nation, or even a small-fry nation, subjecting its defense budgetand therefore its foreign policyto an abstract budgetary formula that had nothing to do with the country’s projected needs? I am not a hawk. I don’t support America using its military to remake the world in its image. I’m sure I could support reductions in the defense budget. But not on the basis of whether the House Tea Party caucus secures a vote on a balanced budget amendment, or whether the Democrats agree to closing down the Environmental Protection Agency, or on the basis of what Boehner or Biden or any of them have for breakfast that morning. This is not the way to run a country.

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