Washington: If the Super Committee or anybody else in America wants to know how important keeping faith with the troops is to Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, all they need do is watch the webcast of today’s readiness hearing.
They will see a fairly rare occurrence: one of the top defense lawmakers near tears, choked with emotion– as he speaks about ensuring troops are paid decently, trained well and aren’t jerked around on their pensions.
Excepting House Speaker John Boehner, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a professional politician react with such genuine emotion — and certainly not on a defense issue. But McKeon’s reaction, watched in real time, was clearly unplanned and heartfelt. He spoke at the end of a hearing about readiness, called to signal the Super Committee and other interested parties about why defense cuts beyond the $450 billion already planned over the next 10 years, would be parlous.
It’s been instructive to watch McKeon cope with the spending and political turmoil of the last few months. He made clear in a briefing for reporters called right after the summer recess that he was having trouble keeping up with the sweeping changes under discussion, and was groping for a way to guide the debate in a direction he felt better suited the military’s long-term needs. Today would seem to indicate he hasn’t found those levers yet.
But today didn’t only include what could become a singularly important symbolic moment in the debate about the U.S. military’s future. House Speaker John Boehner appeared to tell his colleagues, the Super Committee and the White House thathe would oppose further defense cuts.
During a press conference late this afternoon, Boehner said the military had “taken more than their fair share of hits.” That would seem to doom the likelihood of deep defense cuts from the Super Committee, since Boehner is unlikely to allow those he named to the committee the freedom to make cuts without his approval. Also, it now means that the Defense Secretary, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, several members of the Super Committee, the House Speaker and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee all have come out against deep defense cuts beyond those currently planned. That is a formidable political wall to breach.