While conservatives have adamantly demanded spending cuts over the past two and half years, critics have pointed out that most Republican leaders keep defense and entitlements like Social Security and Medicare off the table — which together account for over 60 percent of federal spending — making their calls for belt tightening somewhat disingenuous.
Appearing on CNN’s Parker/Spitzer last night, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-IN) seemed to endorse defense cuts:
SPITZER: You said everything will be on the table, which I admire you, I agree with you, it’s got to be on the table. … Are you willing to consider any cuts in defense? [...]
PENCE: But you bet, Eliot, come on, I mean, we know there are inefficiencies in defense spending in this country. We have real challenges. There are rising threats around the globe far beyond the reach of the war on terror. We need to be preparing for, for the future. I think we can do that if we look for greater efficiencies and if we set into motion processes that will encourage efficiency and a better use of taxpayer’s dollars in providing for the common defense which of course is the first article of the federal government.
Pence’s rhetoric on defense cuts sounds good, but like many GOP promises to cut spending, it rings hollow. Earlier this year, Pence was presented with a great opportunity to cut “inefficiencies in defense spending,” and he passed. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called for major cuts to a number of big-ticket weapons programs and chief among them is a proposed extra engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Gates called the second engine — which costs $560 million a year to develop — “costly and unnecessary,” and said, “Every dollar additional to the budget that we have to put into the F-35 is a dollar taken from something else that the troops may need.” Gates even urged President Obama to veto any funding for the engine.
After the House Armed Services Committee failed to strip the second engine from the Defense Authorization bill in May, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) offered an amendment to de-fund the superfluous project — Pence voted no and the amendment failed. In an interview with Bloomberg’s Al Hunt in July, Pence defended his vote. Seemingly knowing more about defense than Gates, Pence said, “I really do believe that it was in the interest of our national defense.” Not coincidentally, the company that would manufactures the extra engine has a large presence in Pence’s district.
If Pence refuses to cut funding for a program that the military adamantly does not want, what will he cut?