Why The Wall Street Journal’s Stinging Rebuke of HASC Republican Hawks Matters

GOP-on-GOP Attack: The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board has some advice -- and some harsh words -- for HASC Republicans. (Staff image from Getty Images and House Armed Services Committee)

GOP-on-GOP Attack: The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board has some advice — and some harsh words — for HASC Republicans. (Staff image by Sam Votsis compiled from Getty Images and House Armed Services Committee)

Take a moment to listen to a few Republican lawmakers speak on the House or Senate floor, or pay attention to their comments and questions during hearings. Chances are, more than a few will quote something from one of the few major news outlets the GOP still trusts: The Wall Street Journal.

If Republicans trust the reporting in the Journal, then the views of its conservative editorial board are almost Gospel.

And that’s why Tuesday’s remarkable — and sometimes blistering — editorial slamming the House Armed Services Committee’s Republican leaders matters: It could be a game-changer in the sequestration debate.

The Journal’s editorial board labeled the desire among some House Republican defense hawks and appropriators to get rid of the remaining Pentagon sequestration cuts and/or raise budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act an “insurrection” and an “uprising.” It also names names, namely House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky. The WSJ accuses McKeon of leading a “rebellion.”

“This time the insurrection isn’t coming from the Heritage Foundation-tea party caucus, but from defense hawks and appropriators who want to break the annual spending caps in current law. This would be another act of political masochism, handing budget leverage to Senate Democrats and frustrating the GOP’s fiscal conservative base.

“The defense rebellion is led by Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon, who wants Congress to cancel the $20 billion Pentagon spending cut for fiscal 2014. Many of the 34 Republicans on his committee are threatening to vote against a fiscal 2014 budget that keeps the caps and automatic sequester in place.”

(The editorial does state the paper’s belief that McKeon is sincere in his defense of the defense budget.)

The WSJ editorial board is worried that 20 or slightly more House Republican hawks could vote with Democrats in January to raise the BCA spending caps, it might “trigger another [government] shutdown and pell-mell political retreat that makes the GOP again look like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”

The WSJ editorial board wants Congress to leave the spending caps in place, writing the spending limits are nearly solely responsible for paring the still-massive federal deficit. And, in arguing against the so-called “defending defense” crowd, the Journal sided with tea party Republicans by taking McKeon and other defense hawks to the woodshed. (In non-tea party fashion, however, the WSJ editorial cited some non-partisan data from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in making its case.)

“The appropriators and defense hawks exaggerate how severe the cuts are. The budget caps forced deep cutbacks in fiscal 2012 and 2013, but those were off the inflated spending baselines from Mr. Obama’s first two years in office. … After 2014 the caps start to rise again and merely require slower than usual spending increases. Domestic spending increases by $88 billion, or 19%, from 2014 to 2021. Defense spending in particular takes a hit in 2014 but increases in 2015 and keeps rising by $92 billion to $590 billion, or 18%, in 2021.”

Those are the kinds of figures anti-sequester lawmakers and pundits don’t like to talk about. For them, no increase in annual Pentagon funding is enough. And just about every imaginable threat is one that justifies larger yearly increases.

The WSJ editorial board ends its attack on House defense hawks by laying out a scenario that likely already has some phones ringing in those pro-military members’ offices, calls urging them to vote with House GOP leadership and the tea party to keep the caps in place — even if that means more across-the-board cuts to the Pentagon’s budget.

“In the worst scenario, the appropriators rebel and break the caps, which leads to a backlash by the tea party, which could leave [House GOP Speaker John] Boehner having to accept tax increases to pass any budget and avoid a shutdown. Mr. McKeon and GOP appropriators like Tom Cole of Oklahoma will have essentially made Harry Reid the House Speaker.

“The lesson of the recent budget fiasco is that Republicans are nowhere if they don’t stick together to maintain a majority of 218 votes. To avoid a repeat, GOP veterans need to abandon their parochial interests for the greater good. And Mr. Boehner must finally show enough leadership and toughness to keep his members in line.”

More than one defense source sent the editorial to your correspondent on Tuesday, with Kingston Reif of the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation expressing shock to Defense News/Intercepts about the piece’s tone: “WSJ ed board calling out McKeon is a big deal, no?”

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett
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