Even in the Era of New Dysfunction, Congress usually manages to pass a defense authorization bill. The forces of nature demand that the war machine gets to set its budgets on time, even if the budgets for food stamps, welfare, the NIH, the Department of Education, etc., have to sit on pins and needles and wait. But this year may change all that, because the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee doesn’t think much of teh ghey:
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said that he would rather go without a defense spending bill this year than compromise on allowing military chaplains to conduct gay marriages.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” that he would also rather see Congress fail to pass a defense authorization measure for the first time in 50 years if it meant giving in on a provision that effectively bans many terrorism suspects from getting civilian trials.
McKeon’s comments could aggravate a staredown with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which hasn’t shown as much inclination to take a similar stance on those issues.
There are actually two issues here. One is the Defense Department’s recent decision to allow same-sex marriages to be performed by chaplains on military bases. The House version of the defense authorization bill reinstates the ban, which is not part of the Senate version.
Then there is the detainee issue. The Senate version actually does include an effective ban on Article III trials for terrorist suspects, with severe restrictions on transfer of detainees. It also effectively authorizes indefinite detention. But Harry Reid has determined that the bill won’t come up for a vote unless the detainee language is removed. It’s a pretty potent form of hardball, and Reid is operating with the backing of many of his Senate Democratic colleagues and the White House, which opposes the provisions. Presumably they don’t want to have to veto the bill over the provisions, so Reid is blocking the bill from getting a vote unless they are removed.
What this shows you, more than anything, is how national defense has become more of a culture war issue. McKeon isn’t incensed about our imperial adventures abroad, or the tens of billions spent on obsolete weapons systems. He’s mad about gay weddings on military bases, and the idea that a Scary Terrorist could get a court hearing on US soil in an Article III court.
This is just an extension of the politicization of the defense sphere which has been going on since 9-11 and well before that. It’s why Mitt Romney sounded like Zell Miller in his foreign policy speech last week, vowing to roll back “massive defense cuts” that don’t yet exist. It’s why Republicans, after agreeing to a debt limit deal that capped defense spending modestly, are claiming that the language doesn’t mandate a cap and that the defense budget should be spared. Defense has just become another pretext for other tribal issues, another big stick that can be used for political clubbing.
Incidentally, McKeon comes from a district in California won by Obama in 2008. Not that this has had any bearing on his policy stances.