By Ryan McNeely
Brian Beutler has spoken with a source with knowledge of the internal deliberations of the White House’s bipartisan Deficit Commission, and it turns out that the budget cuts may be somewhat selective:
A source familiar with the proceedings of the working group on discretionary spending tells TPM that some commissioners, including one military contractor, would prefer to save money by freezing military pay and scaling back benefits, rather than by eliminating waste in defense contracting…
“Coburn raised concerns about all of the cost overruns and redundant weapons system,” the source told TPM. “[Obama appointee & Honeywell CEO] Cote made excuses for it all.”
According to the source, Cote and other members, including the commission’s co-chair Alan Simpson, are focusing instead on “freezing military pay, making military people pay for their health care.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with looking at military pay and health care benefits as part of a broader push to trim the defense budget. Larry Korb, Laura Conley, and Sean Duggan at CAP have noted that “premiums for TRICARE, the military’s health care system, have not been raised in 15 years” despite huge increases in healthcare costs and DoD’s own request for premium increases.
But this only makes sense in the context of a truly broader push to trim the defense budget. It’s the height of fiscal irresponsibility and cowardice to ask military personnel and families to sacrifice while giving a pass to hugely expensive and redundant weapons contracts. But that’s precisely the problem with this type of behind-closed-doors commission when the Honeywell CEO is invited as a good faith partner but a representative for “military families” doesn’t get a seat at the table.
Beutler also reports that “tax hikes aren’t gaining traction” so “the group is discussing ways to close loopholes, end exemptions, deductions, credits, etc. to limit tax expenditures.” If I were the President, the price of admission for my commission would be an openness to tax hikes as part of any serious attempt at deficit reduction. Instead we get Tom Coburn saying that “nothing’s off the table” when really he means “nothing except the most efficient way of raising revenue,” and we get this obsessive focus on helpful-but-insufficient closing of loopholes and ending credits and such simply because they don’t offend the conservative movement’s sensibilities.
I agree with Matt that the deficit commission’s recommendations are unlikely to be actually implemented. But I just don’t understand the politics at all. This is the Democratic White House’s Deficit Commission which will be making these recommendations, which are shaping up to be highly unpopular. Republican leadership in Congress will simply wash their hands of it all, as they did when the idea of creating the commission came up for a vote. On top of that, since the recommendations are likely to be voted down, the country doesn’t even get the benefit of a reduced deficit. If the headline over the holidays in December is “Republicans Successfully Block Obama Plan to Cut Military Pay,” the White House will have no one to blame but themselves.