While President Obama appeared to signal in his State of the Union speech that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made the right moves in cutting Pentagon spending, he also sent a strong signal to lawmakers, threatening to veto any bill containing earmarks.
The push for defense cuts that might come from Tea Party supporters and some Democrats would appear to have lost some steam between Obama's remarks and what we hear may be coming during the House Armed Services Committee's hearing on efficiencies. This hearing may mark the first clear signs of a split within defense Republicans over the issues of defense budget cuts.
That's what we're hearing from some Capitol Hill sources. Discipline in the House is much tougher than it is in the Senate and committee chairmen wield great power in the House. Rep. Buck McKeon, HASC chairman, has stated and restated his opposition to much of what the Pentagon wants to do in making program cuts and finding efficiencies. Two of his subcommittee chairman, Reps. Todd Akin and Randy Forbes, have publicly stated that they share McKeon's sentiments. Gates staked out his position on Jan. 6, demanding another $78 billion program cuts in addition to the roughly $100 billion in efficiencies he required of the services and of the defense agencies.
So we may not see many public expressions of support for defense cuts during the hearing, but our sources indicate there is some grumbling in the ranks.
The other issue almost certain to get hammered during the HASC hearing is the Marines Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Few lawmakers -- caught between the enormous political support that the Marines wear like their handsome uniforms and growing pressure from EFV maker General Dynamics -- will be willing to question the mission of either EFV or that of the Marines.
McKeon, joined by the seven top GOP lawmakers on the HASC, wrote to Gates this week urging him to avoid “precipitous action” on any of the programs the Defense Secretary has pledged to cut. Essentially, McKeon and his colleagues argued that stopping work on the EFV now and going ahead with his other cuts would rob Congress of its chance to perform oversight and make policy.
Expect Gates to push ahead. Expect Congress to give the Marines pretty much whatever they want.