There are five reasons why it was virtually inevitable the White House would make military spending an issue this year.
1. The Pentagon Has Become Increasingly Unpopular. After foreign aid and NASA, military spending is the area of the federal budget that has the least amount of public support. Many national polls conducted over the past year show that more than half the country thinks that reductions in defense spending are warranted. The Obama administration could not possibly fail to notice that, while the generality of “a strong defense” continues to be popular, there is a growing feeling that it can be provided at a much lower cost.
2. The President’s Focus On The Deficit Made A Close Look At The Pentagon Impossible To Avoid. This is simple math more than complex politics. The political difficulties with reductions in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and increases in taxes, plus the limited amount of spending (at least by federal standards) in annual nondefense appropriations meant that there was no place else for the White House to turn for deficit reductions but to national security programs.
3. The GOP Is Already On Record In Favor Of Cutting Military Spending. No matter how often congressional Republicans now try to come up with alternatives that would eliminate or mitigate the national security “sequester” that was triggered when the anything-but-super committee failed in late November to agree on a deficit reduction plan, the fact remains that they first agreed to throw the Pentagon under the budget bus when they voted for the Budget Control Act in early August. That allows the White House to claim bi-partisan support for Pentagon reductions.
4. There Is Ample Hi-Level GOP Expert Opinion That Pentagon Spending Can Be Cut Without Sacrificing National Security. As Heather Hurlburt pointed out in an excellent piece yesterday in the Huffington Post, a number of highly respected Republican military experts are on record with ideas about how the Pentagon can and should be cut. This includes Colin Powell, Robert Gates, Dov Zakheim and even Donald Rumsfeld, all of who have all offered specific plans for cutting one or more parts of the military budget. In fact, Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Dick Cheney was secretary of defense when Ronald Reagan reduced the DOD budget by 25 percent. The Obama White House knows it can use all these to validate its claim that the reductions can be done safely. (NOTE: Quotes from Reagan, Cheney and Powell on this subject should be expected in the State of the Union Address.)
5. The War In Afghanistan Is Increasingly Unpopular. The polls indicate an overwhelming preference for reducing or eliminating the spending associated with activities in Afghanistan rather than on virtually any domestic activity.
None of this should be a surprise: The military contracting community has been reading these same tealeaves for months. Indeed, the Aerospace Industry Association’s analysis that was released before the hardly super committee’s failure that highlighted the job losses associated with the sequester cuts has to be seen at least in part as an attempt to deal with the same factors motivating the Obama administration.