CAPITOL HILL: The House Armed Services Committee has scheduled its first hearing on what is arguably the Pentagon’s most important shift since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the strategic shift of US forces and focus to the Pacific.
So far the witness list for the Wednesday morning hearing doesn’t boast a list of administration heavyweights. It’s got well known think tank experts, one each from the American Enterprise Institute (conservative, mostly GOP) and the Center for a New American Security (liberal, with very close ties to administration) with other witnesses to come. HASC Chairman Buck McKeon told me in February that he didn’t plan any specific hearings about the shift to the Pacific since the standard hearings would feature the combatant commanders, including the head of Pacific Command, and that was all that necessary. This seems to be a shift from that position…
To a close observer of the House, this spasm of attention would seem to be of a piece with the GOP’s wandering eye on defense issues over the last year. After initially screaming that sequestration would be catastrophic and begging the Pentagon to say more about its effects, the GOP now seems to have accepted that sequestration will continue and has made little effort to overturn it or ameliorate it.
For example, when last week Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent his eight-page letter about sequestration’s impact to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the collective Republican reaction could best be described as a whisper. Hagel’s letter described next year’s sequestration cuts — about $52 billion — as “severe and unacceptable.” In years past such language would have ignited GOP members, who would have pointed fingers at Democrats and accused somebody of undermining America’s security.
Instead, the loudest reaction came from Sen. James Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he basically echoed Hagel’s comments. “As I predicted, sequestration is leading to the hollowing out of our military and if the Department of Defense’s sequestration is not averted for future years, we will move beyond furloughs and programmatic reductions to firing personnel and canceling our critical weapons programs,” Inhofe said in a statement. As far as any outsider knows, no one in either the House or Senate went to their leadership and demanded legislative action in the face of this. Indeed, the quiet reaction from everyone on the Hill basically gave much more credence to those who have concluded that sequestyration is here to stay until something big happens like an Iran or North Korea attack or a sequestration story catches fire (hasn’t happened yet).
So, we have a fairly quiescent GOP, a virtually silent Democratic Party and an administration that oversold the problems and now faces skepticism from American public and elections in November next year. That’s not a recipe for change, especially with a GOP that appears to have split between Tea Party folks, who really don’t seem to care about defense one way or another (after all, it’s just another part of that evil thing known as Big Government), and the mainline party, who appear largely cowed by the Tea Party on defense issues.