By Peter Galuszka
You have to love Virginia politicians. One minute they are bashing the federal government and spending. The next, they’re screaming about cutbacks in defense spending. Talk about wanting it both ways.
One of the most profound contradictions is the perpetual clash between the idea of skinflint budgets with that of keeping the military pumped up with bucks. After all, Virginia is chock-a-block with military and intelligence facilities of all kinds and is the No. 2 defense industry state after California.
This will make things interesting the night of Oct. 22 when President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney face off in their last campaign debate with the topic being foreign policy. The curiosity is that Romney, who says he’s a fiscal conservative, is blasting Obama for not proposing enough military dollars.
Joining him in the attack is his vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, an original “Young Gun” who not too long ago was the Pied Piper of Budget Fanaticism. You may remember, 2010, the Tea Party and how we were driving off the fiscal cliff. (see “Boomergeddon,” 2010).
According to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, a non-partisan group, says that Romney’s plan to gradually increase military budget increases to 4 percent of GDP would add $7.5 trillion to spending or $1.8 trillion more than Obama would.
For a look at where that spending would go, check out the $2 billion Virginia class attack submarines that are built jointly by Newport News Ship (20,000 jobs) and General Dynamics Electric Boat (20,000 jobs) in New London, Ct. Obama wants to build the subs at a schedule of two a year while Romney wants three a year. Overall, Romney would increase naval shipbuilding to 15 a year with Obama favoring 9 or 10 a year.
To be sure, a lot of Navy ships are getting long in the tooth. The nuclear attack carrier Enterprise is finally heading off to the welders’ torches after something like six decades in service. It’s not certain what the Navy will really be able to do with carriers after the Nimitz class is over.
As for Virginia class subs, the latest, the USS Minnesota, will be christened later this week. Virginia class subs are supposed to be more in fitting with the post-Cold War. They can carry nuclear-tipped cruise missiles that can be used in strategic strikes but they also can carry Navy SEALs. They are not the same as Trident class subs that were designed to strike the Soviet Union.
In fact, the problem comes up over how many SEAL-carrying subs the U.S. needs. The current thinking seems to be that drones and specials forces are what’s needed, not F-22 Raptor fighters designed to intercept Soviet jets or F-35 attack aircraft. As for aircraft carriers, that’s a good question. They can operate as mobile airfields anywhere on the ocean, but their aircraft are limited in the Afghanistan war because they don’t have the fuel range. Thus, they don’t really have the legs their proponents claim.
Saving Virginia defense spending is something in which politicians of every stripe demand a role. Not too long ago, Democrats went to Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell to ask for his help in fighting back defense cuts. They are all terrified in the immediate $500 billion sequestration cuts that could cost from 100,000 to 200,000 Virginia jobs in January. This came up in the abortive debt ceiling deal a summer ago – the one in which House Majority Leader Eric Cantor played such a notorious role.
The military is a fact of life in Virginia but what is galling is how the Paul Ryans of the world play it both ways. Even McDonnell admits that military spending will have to be addressed sooner or later, but not until the $500 billion cuts are shut down.
As for me, I just can’t remember the Tea Party heyday of two or three years ago. Federal spending was a monster worse than communism. Now we’re back attacking candidates for not spending enough. Talk about contradictions! Makes me think I’m back in Moscow.