According to news reports, “Pentagon chief Leon Panetta vowed Wednesday to fight any across-the-board cuts to defense spending that could be triggered in the next phase of deficit reduction that he says could do ‘real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation.” That makes him a hero at the Pentagon, right? And, it puts him on record as bucking his own President, who has long talked about putting big defense cuts “on the table,” right?
Probably not. The flimflam man calls this the old “bait and switch” bit. The President has tried to outflank conservatives in the deficit debate by framing the choice as “big defense cuts” or “big tax increases,” knowing that conservatives hate both. Indeed, of late more and more conservative leaders in the Congress have come online waving red flags that the proposed cuts are just nuts. More than likely, rather than echoing their concern, Panetta is trying to turn up the heat, forcing conservatives to cave on big tax hikes or take the blame for massive defense cuts.
Conveniently for President Obama, there was no mention from Panetta of the third option for getting federal overspending and over-borrowing under control—reforming ever-expanding and ever-expending entitlement programs. This is the best option and, as The Heritage Foundation’s “Saving the American Dream” plan shows, is certainly achievable.
Still, no one in Congress is likely to be fooled by Panetta’s sudden conversion to a defense hawk. “It’s impossible to support the kind of defense budget that the Republican Party has been advocating for without any revenue unless you are willing to cut entitlements literally in half,” said Representative Adam Smith (D–WA), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, who voted against the deal because the cuts to discretionary spending, including defense, were ‘unacceptable.”
More than likely, going forward Panetta will play both sides of the street. On the one hand, he will continue to fan the flames of conservative worry that they will get blamed for the coming defense crisis because they did not cave on tax hikes. On the other hand, he will hand Obama a roles-and-missions report that rubber stamps the hundreds of billions Obama has already slated to cut the budget, concluding that forcing the military do a lot less with a lot less won’t compromise national security.