Opinion: Columnists

Hugh Hewitt: Rescuing Defense from the fiscal hostage crisis

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Concern for national security has defined the GOP since Ike, but that priority has been missing from the "fiscal cliff" negotiations.

The House Republicans could easily pass and send to the Senate a bill exempting the Department of Defense from the sequester and thus removing our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines from the impact of the looming across-the-board cuts.

In the course of this week's radio shows I interviewed Tom Donnelly, Mackenzie Eaglen, and Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute and Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations -- all experts on the Pentagon and the impacts of the cuts should they fall.

For good measure I added in David Langstaff, president and CEO of defense contractor TASC, and one of the group of CEOs who went to the National Press Club to urge that Congress not allow the sequester to savage defense.

All of those voices and there are many more, are unanimous in urging that the mindless cutting at the Pentagon be stopped. The president pledged that it would not occur during the campaign.

So why are our troops and the equipment on which they depend and the comfort and safety of their families part of the hostage negotiations over tax rates, spending cuts and entitlement reform?

There are a handful of Republicans and more than a few Democrats who want the axe to fall on the Pentagon, but they are a very small minority within the GOP and not even a majority of Nancy Pelosi's caucus will attack the troops openly.

So Speaker Boehner should lead the House to pass and send to Harry Reid and the Senate a stand-alone bill that exempts the Department of Defense from this folly. There may be additional savings to be wrung from the Pentagon, especially among the civilian workers laboring there, but in a reasonable, deliberate fashion and one that does not see us losing by pique and carelessness men and women in uniform who have spent their lives defending the country or which imperil their families who, through a dozen years of war, have sacrificed far, far more than any other group of Americans.

Holding the military hostage to this partisan gamesmanship is shocking. Allowing it to happen, a great stain on the GOP. Perhaps Harry Reid doesn't mind the scorn that such tactics gets him, but we won't know until the House obliges him to act or continue to express indifference to the troops.

Writing in the new Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol suggests that another Reagan could emerge in these four years. Given the state of the world -- Egypt, Syria, Iran, the PRC -- we may well need a Churchill, not a Reagan. But regardless of the leader's profile and pedigree, he or she must now be demanding that the country be serious about its defenses, not cavalierly treating them as chips and markers.

"The Republican party has no obvious Reagan -- or Ike for that matter, waiting in the wings," concludes Kristol. And he is right.

But it does have Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as well as congressmen who are combat veterans of this war -- Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark. Putting together a caucus that will speak for national security, supported by defense intellectuals in a body similar to the Committee on the Present Danger in the 1980s, is already an overdue step.

As is a House bill exempting the Pentagon from an obscene "sequester" that repays courage and sacrifice with indifference and disdain.

Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.

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