Plus Ca Change? It Won't be the Same Thing
The results yesterday bring a big change, but not the change observers think when it comes to the defense budget.
For the defense committees, ideology will rear a powerful head, and the rhetorical and political battles over DADT, Afghanistan, the New START treaty, missile defense, China, Iran, and the Middle East will all provide powerful headlines and verbal fisticuffs.
But when it comes to budgets, the departure of Ike Skelton and the arrival of the Republicans at the helm of authorizing and appropriating committees simply mean "business as usual."
The new leadership in defense supports high defense budgets; the old one did, too. They will lobby for earmarks for their pet rocks and their districts; the old ones did, too. Tea Party preferences on earmarks won't be likely to stop the old guard.
But there is a difference. It is outside the defense world and the defense committees, but very rooted in the policy preferences of the new conservatives. They want smaller government, and they want it now. They want lower taxes, and they want them now. They want a balanced budget, now.
And they don't own the political machinery. That's the key. To get anywhere close to conservative fiscal goals, they are going to have to cut a deal. It is clear the administration is prepared to deal. It is equally clear the Democrats in the Congress want to deal. But a deal is only possible if everything is on the table, as the Rivlin-Domenici and the President's budget commissions have been signalling for months, and are likely to report this month and next. And the Tea Party crowd is not rock solid that defense should get a pass.
And that puts defense on the table, along with mandatories, revenues, and domestic discretionary spending. Look for a "bye" in the lame duck, with a year-long CR or a quick, steady level omnibus for the year, to get the old crowd out of Dodge. Then prepare for a wrangle on FY 2012, that puts it all up for grabs. Defense will not escape, and the best efforts of DOD and the committee defenders of the faith to keep it off the table will fail, or there will be no deal.
Could be interesting. But it is not Kansas, any more.