Word is out all around Washington that the Obama Administration plans to cut US defense programs by $78 billion and 70,000 troops by 2015. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush Administration with credibility within the military community, is spearheading the administration’s press on this issue. Separately, Eric Cantor, the new majority leader in the Republican–controlled House of Representatives, has said that military spending cannot be a "sacred cow".
So, at least in word – if not yet in deed – we are getting the first real miss on my post-election predictions for Obama’s economic agenda for re-election. When reviewing Byron Wien’s ten surprises for for 2010 earlier in the week, I said liberals are loth to be seen as weak on national defense in reference to one of the missed predictions. This may be true, but the politics of the defense cut move are now clear. The new Republican congress is also putting military spending cuts on the table, so the Obama administration can do as well, without looking weak on defense. Moreover, the Obama Administration announced earlier today that it is sending 14,000 more troops to Afghanistan, demonstrating that it is still committed to national defense.
I see this as a big development. $78 billion is a drop in the bucket of course. Nevertheless, the fact that military spending cuts are now on the table – and both sides are talking about defense cuts seriously – means that this 112th Congress may be serious about reducing spending.