The Times Is Very Confused about Defense Spending

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Republicans are accustomed to stern reprimands from the editors of the New York Times — but not for the sin of agreeing with President Obama. In February, Obama requested $612 billion for next year’s defense budget; this month, the House passed a bill authorizing $612 billion for next year’s defense budget. Now the Times says in a new editorial Obama ought to veto the bill — an argument that requires generating ample confusion about who wanted what in the first place.

“Republicans and Democratic hawks are determined to pour billions of additional dollars into the Pentagon,” the Grey Lady about the $612 billion bill, which got 41 Democratic votes in the House. Unless you consider President Obama a Democratic hawk, you’d never know he requested pouring said billions.

Disconcertingly, the editors may be unaware of this — if they rely on their own paper’s coverage of Capitol Hill. In its article about the defense authorization bill, the paper also failed to mention that Obama requested $612 billion (although an AP wire report on the Times’ website mentioned it in passing.) Nonetheless, a careful reading indicates that even Democrats who opposed the defense bill were not taking issue with the amount authorized. Baltimore representative Elijah Cummings, for instance, said he actually supported more defense spending, but also wanted more funding for domestic programs.

Cummings’s point gets to the real point of contention between President Obama and Republicans in Congress – the balance between military and non-military spending. For months, Obama has said he would veto spending bills that give him the defense budget he asked for if he doesn’t also get the additional funding he wants for domestic programs. For now, Republicans seem determined to court a veto, sensing that Obama may shy away from actually holding up money for the troops.

If it provided this small amount of background information, the Times editorial board could’ve done its readers a service and focused attention on the actual principles driving debate on the Hill. The real problem for the Grey Lady may be that a good number of progressives, at least for the moment, do not share the Times’ instinctive opposition to greater defense spending. Of course, the editors don’t tell you that the Pentagon’s budget has fallen by 14 percent in real terms over the past five years, or by 26 percent if you include funding levels for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which may begin to explain the consensus. Instead, they trot out old shibboleths such as “throwing money at the military doesn’t guarantee security.”

While one certainly ought to be thankful for today’s measure of bipartisan consensus on defense spending, it may not make much difference so long as the president demands that every dollar for defense be matched by another dollar for non-defense programs. That is a prescription for gridlock that reflects a regrettable complacency about growing threats from ISIS, Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea.

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