For 48 consecutive years the U.S. Congress has passed, and the President has signed, a defense authorization bill to authorize funding for new weapons systems, military research programs, troop pay raises, recruitment bonuses and other significant programs and benefits for America’s armed forces. This year, however, Congress may decide to go on an extended holiday vacation in mid-December rather than stick around to take up this important piece of annual legislation. The President, too, may decide to take off for warm, sunny Hawaii rather than stick around cold, dreary Washington to help strong-arm the bill through a weary Congress. But the work still needs to get done, and it needs to get done before anyone in Washington boards a plane for winter vacation.
Both parties are playing textbook political games with this legislation, and it needs to stop. If for the sake of just doing the right thing isn’t enough, then the fact that Americans can now see through the rhetoric-laden press statements and cheap tactical maneuvering should provide sufficient motivation. While Democratic leaders in the Senate have tried to delay striking a procedural deal with moderates as long as possible, hoping in the end to be able to blame those same moderates, Republicans have for days been holding all legislation hostage in order to coerce the Democrats into a deal on tax policy. In the end, anyone with a high school education will be able to recognize – and hopefully remember – the ridiculous games each party was willing to play while a ready-to-go defense bill sat collecting dust.
And while this circus plays out on Capitol Hill and in the media, the White House, too, continues to refuse to make any significant push on behalf of this important defense legislation. It is clear that tax cuts are currently everyone’s priority, but the prioritization of the START treaty by the White House, a bill that can still pass next year, over the defense authorization bill, which, in its current form, cannot pass next year, is quite baffling, especially given the immediate pay-off of many of the defense bill’s provisions – both literal and metaphorical.
Washington is in perpetual need of rethinking its priorities, but this is one point in time where that cliché is especially appropriate. If Congress and the President whisk themselves out of town for vacation without a defense bill having been passed and signed into law, they will deserve the public scorn that will surely follow. And if they skip town without a defense bill while trying to point fingers the whole way home, the public will see right though it.