Democrats in Defense Denial

Obama advisers ignore presidential budget failures, blame GOP for sequester

Patrick Murphy, Barack Obama 2006 / AP
September 4, 2012

CHARLOTTE — A longtime surrogate for Team Obama accused Mitt Romney and the Republican Party of caring more about Washington interests and the Tea Party than about war veterans and America.

"Veterans as a whole will put the country first and [the GOP is] putting the Tea Party and other elements first in Washington," former Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy (Pa.) told a group of reporters and foreign policy experts Tuesday afternoon on the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention (DNC).

Murphy, an Iraq war veteran and key supporter of then-Sen. Obama in 2008, blamed Republicans for failing to stave off nearly $500 billion in mandatory defense cuts known as "sequestration."

Far-right elements of the Republican Party prevented House Speaker John Boehner from acting to prevent the sequester, Murphy claimed.

"The extreme right wing of his caucus tied his hands and he couldn’t act," he said.

Tammy Duckworth, a veteran who is running for Congress in Illinois, also blamed "extremist members of Congress" for the impasse over the defense budget.

"Those extremist members of Congress who will not work, will not compromise" have imperiled America’s national security, she said, singling out Rep. Joe Walsh (R., Ill.), her Republican opponent, for criticism.

"If those folks are" voted out of Congress, it will "free more moderate members" to work towards a compromise," Duckworth said. "If the Tea Party extremists win and retain control, we are in danger of nothing happening."

"If those folks that … continue to put ideology over country, if those folks are defeated you’ll see a collective deep breath and a ‘lets get to work’" mentality emerge, Duckworth said.

The event, hosted by Bloomberg Government, featured an array of senior Obama campaign foreign policy advisers, including Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, who now serves as Team Obama’s top national security adviser.

Flournoy also blamed Republicans for the impasse over the defense cuts, which will be automatically enacted on Jan. 3 if Congress fails to agree on a compromise.

The GOP is "putting ideological discipline ahead of the fiscal discipline this country needs," Flournoy said, explaining that all cuts must be balanced by "revenues," otherwise known as tax increases on Americans.

"Republicans won’t put revenues on the table," Flournoy said, echoing the sentiments of other Obama administration officials who have maintained that defense cuts are the product of wealthy Americans failing to pay their "fair share."

"You can’t solve the budget problem" by taking cuts off the table "unless you put revenues on the table," Flournoy said, encouraging "journalists" in attendance to properly "frame the choice for people."

Flournoy went on to express her certainty that Congress will reach some sort of agreement aimed at preventing the sequester, or at least delaying its implementation.

"I will bet a lot, my mortgage, on the fact they will at the very least buy themselves time," she said. "They will do something to prevent that deadline from happening on January 3."

The effects of the sequester are already being felt in the job market, she said, explaining that nervous defense contractors and other businesses are spending their money cautiously.

"The shame of this is … the effects of sequester are already being felt [in the] lack of predictability in the private sector, [which] has made them sit on the cash they have and made them feel they can’t make the investments they need to make to" in order to stimulate the job market," Flournoy said,

Impending defense cuts are "damaging the economy right now and that’s the shame of it," she emphasized.

Asked why the Pentagon and military leaders have failed to plan for the looming sequester, Flournoy responded: "Because they think its such a bad idea for our national security."

Congress already approved nearly $500 billion in defense cuts earlier this year. Failure to agree on further cuts will lead to sequestration, which Flourney—like those on the other side of aisle—said is untenable.

If "you go too much further down this road, you’ll give up major pillars of American [military] strategy," Flournoy said, referring to additional cuts to the defense budget.

Douglas Wilson, a former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs who now advises Team Obama, said that defense cuts must be implemented "smartly" and said sequestration is a "red herring."

"Sequestration is a red herring and planning for a red herring invites the kind of exacerbation of political division that doesn’t help us get where we need to go in terms of our national security," Wilson said.