Foreign Policy Chat - GOP Demands The Pentagon Help Manufacture Attacks On Obama

Four members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, all Republicans (I'll include Joe Lieberman under that heading), wrote a letter to the White House demanding that the military commanders publish a list of "unfunded requirements." Pentagon planners furnishing a wish-list of items that didn't make the cut for the defense budget has been customary for a number of years, though its purpose is pretty dubious. The Defense guidance and actual budget represent months of calculated and systematic work analyzing plans, strategies, inputs, force structure, and the capabilities needed to respond to present and future challenges. Capabilities, personnel, and line-items that didn't make the cut were left out for a reason; because the Pentagon decided that resources were better spent elsewhere. Congress, however, has traditionally used these unfunded priorities lists for almost entirely political or parochial purposes.

This process is not, as they claim, about Congress being able to make sound decisions, but instead it is about institutionalizing pork. CQ explains that the "existence of the lists had given lawmakers license to add spending to the defense budget under the cover of military utility. The absence of those lists will make it harder for members to shift money toward such projects." Pentagon officials have said that no one at DoD or in the Administration placed any restriction on the Service Chiefs submitting lists this year, and the Commanders made clear that their decision not to do so was entirely rational. General Amos responded to the request by saying that "Given the zero-sum nature of the Budget Control Act, we have no unfunded requirement that exceeds the importance of those in the submitted budget request." Isn't that how the budget process is supposed to work?

For Senate Republicans, though, this isn't merely about garnering official cover for pet projects in their home States. It's also about scoring political points. Congressman Paul Ryan made this clear last month when he baselessly accused the Pentagon of secretly not supporting the President's budget request. He was quickly disabused of this notion publically by the Joint Chiefs and the Congressman issued a formal apology. The GOP remains intent, however, on promulgating this notion that President Obama is somehow endangering America's national security by placing any constraints whatsoever on the defense budget process. Within moments of the Service Chiefs handing down their wish-lists, John Boehner would be marching in front of a bank of cameras waving these unfunded priorities over his head and insisting that the President is in league with al Qaida for not asking Congress to purchase whatever rocket, jeep, or rifle was on the list.  The Joint Chiefs have repeatedly told Congressional Republicans that they support the existing budget and are very capable of keeping America safe while functioning within its confines. If that was what the GOP actually cared about, they would stop asking the same question again and again. But everyone knows that's not what they care about. Republican Senators are simply trying to demand that the Pentagon help them manufacture attacks on the President during the run-up to an election, and the Service Chiefs are right not to indulge them. It's as simple as that.