Yesterday, ThinkProgress joined a handful of journalists for a wide-ranging discussion with David Axelrod, Senior Adviser to President Obama. In his State of the Union address on Wednesday night, Obama announced a discretionary spending freeze that excluded the massive budgets of the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
“Can you tell the American people that there aren’t any savings to be found in the Defense and Homeland Security budgets?” ThinkProgress asked Axelrod. The President’s Senior Adviser acknowledged, no, “I can’t tell you that” there aren’t savings which can be found there.
Axelrod highlighted prior efforts by the administration to rein in defense spending and insisted that further cuts could still be made. Yet the Pentagon budget — which is expected to exceed $700 billion when Obama unveils his budget on Feb. 1st — remains inexplicably exempt from the spending freeze.
“We live in a dangerous world,” Axelrod said in trying to justify the special exclusion for the defense budget. “What we can’t do at a time when we’re in two wars and we have a very determined enemy in Al Qaeda, we can’t stand down,” he added in an interview with Fox News. Yet, rather than carve out an exclusion to fund troops in the field, the administration opted for a more expansive exclusion. And while cuts might indeed be made to certain programs, the overall Pentagon budget will be allowed to increase without having to face the difficult tradeoffs that other departments will.
Asked whether politics played any part in the decision to carve out a special exclusion for national security-related budgets, Axelrod denied that it did. “There weren’t any meetings that I was in where that was talked about,” he told us.
As Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb has argued, “If President Obama is serious about controlling spending, he can’t exempt the Pentagon.” And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) concurs, telling reporters yesterday that the entire defense budget “should not be exempted” from the freeze.
,Paul Krugman opines on the motives behind the spending freeze. “Mr. Obama’s advisers believed he could score some political points by doing the deficit-peacock strut,” he writes. “I think they were wrong, that he did himself more harm than good.”