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A ray of light for the Iron Triangle

As House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon has said, Congress doesn't work very well these days.

So there are many good reasons to write off the rest of this year as hopeless. Lawmakers might not even pass a budget, let alone save the Pentagon from January's guillotine, and they could squabble the whole time about how it was the other party's fault. This is governing in the second decade of the 21st century.

But wait a tick -- here is some potentially interesting news by way of POLITICO's Austin Wright, who talked with McKeon about his ice-fed-workers-to-block-the-first-year-of-sequestration plan. The big man, House Speaker John Boehner, was evidently cool to McKeon's idea, but for a reason that could offer hope to the military-industrial-congressional complex. Boehner doesn't want a short-term compromise on sequestration because he thinks, of all things, the House can get what President Obama has called a "comprehensive" deal to reduce the deficit.

Wrote Wright:

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel wouldn’t comment on the speaker’s conversation with McKeon.

“While we haven’t outlined a specific proposal, the speaker believes we will have the additional $1.2 trillion in additional cuts,” Steel said. “But the speaker believes there’s a better way to do it – a way that, in the words of President Obama’s own defense secretary, doesn’t hollow out the armed forces.”

Tea leaf time: Does this mean Boehner will at some point offer his own proposal that could forestall sequestration? Or does it just mean that the speaker believes the House can now support some kind of agreement? (It couldn't last year, when tea partarian members kept bolting.) Either would be significant.

There isn't much time, however, with the calendar abbreviated this year to permit members to go home and campaign. And it isn't clear what election year politics will mean for Congress' ability to work before November -- would voters prefer a statesmanlike grand compromise, or would they respond more to knife fights and bomb throwing?

Pessimism almost always pays off in Washington, especially when both parties on the Hill are optimistic about their chances on Election Day. Still, Boehner's signals here might offer a new ray of hope for defense advocates, the Pentagon and industry officials who have been looking into the future and seeing nothing but problems.


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