Hagel Confirmed – Will He Jump on the Military Expenditure Bandwagon?

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Chuck Hagel is confirmed as Secretary of Defense; will he now try to sell the myth that a high military budget is good for jobs?


ELIZABETH WARREN, U.S. SENATOR (D-MA): The ayes 58, nays 41. The nomination is confirmed.

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: On Tuesday, February 26, the Senate confirmed former Republican senator Chuck Hagel to become the next secretary of defense. The vote was split mostly along party lines, with 54 democrats voting in support of Hagel and 41 Republicans opposed. The four Republicans who supported Hagel were senators Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. It was the narrowest margin on record for any defense secretary.

Hagel’s confirmation made history again when Republicans dragged out the confirmation of Hagel by filibustering, marking the first time any cabinet-level nominee was filibustered.

But why was there so much resistance to confirm Hagel who is a career Republican and now is the highest ranking Republican in the Obama administration?

At Hagel’s confirmation hearing on January 31, the battle over Hagel’s candor towards Israel and Iran put Hagel in the line of fire before Republicans of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

Hagel said to a journalist that the Jewish lobby intimidates politicians on Capitol Hill, a point which caused South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to push back.

LINDSEY GRAHAM, U.S. SENATOR (D-SC): Name one person who is intimidated by the Israeli lobby

I can’t think of a more provocative statement that what you said.

The latest of Senator Graham’s assaults was over an alleged report that Hagel said he was concerned over Israel “becoming an apartheid state.”

Policy director of Just Foreign Policy Robert Naiman helped lead a petition that acquired more than 25,000 signatures to show their support for Hagel’s alleged use of the word “apartheid”. Naiman notes that it was a word used by top former Israeli leaders as well (SEE VIDEO OF EHUD BARAK – IN 1:18).

ROBERT NAIMAN, POLICY DIRECTOR, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: We wanted to educate people; that’s why they denied their democratic rights.

But now that Hagel is over his confirmation hurdle, what will become of the defense budget, something that he labeled as being “bloated” in a 2011 Financial Times interview?

This comment cost him the endorsement of prominent mainstream outlets like The Washington Post. In their December 18, 2012, editorial titled “Chuck Hagel is not the right choice for defense secretary,” it read:

“Mr. Hagel’s stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term—and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him.”

“While both Republicans and Democrats accept that further cuts in defense may be inevitable, few have suggested that a reduction on the scale of the sequester is responsible.”

Many news outlets point to how the March 27 automatic cuts known as the sequester will reduce the annual defense budget from $700 billion to $600 billion, which would result in the loss of jobs.

On Tuesday February 26, even President Obama stumped in shunning sequestration and its dire effects on the defense industry at a shipyard in Virginia.

BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: The main reason I’m here and to let the American people know that this work along with hundreds of thousands of jobs are currently in jeopardy because of politics in Washington.

But some argue that advocating the current defense budget is not what President Obama should be defending.

According to a report by National Priorities Project, without the sequester, the Pentagon Budget would grow by $5 billion if not for the sequestration.

MATTEA KRAMER, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PRIORITIES PROJECT: We found that defense on weapons – we see opportunities to contracts – they do have – but that’s not necessarily a reason to OUT – avoid of such cuts.

IN 4:11 What we do believe in a democratic process- irresponsible backroom deals = this the opposite of good democratic – we’re not rooting – it’s mindless cuts – Now for – majority of Americans it may be the only way but with this sort of…

OUT 5:08 That makes much more sense than the sequester

In an interview about sequestration with co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute Bob Pollin, he said that there’s less bang for your buck when funds are spent on the military.

ROBERT POLLIN, CODIRECTOR, PERI: for every dollar that is spent on the military, if the money is instead spent on education, you get 2.5 times more jobs, you get about 27 jobs per $1 million of spending on education versus 11 in the military. So we can’t think about spending on the military strictly in absolute terms of job creation. We have to compare it with job creation in other sectors of the economy.

That means that defense spending doesn’t always equal more jobs.

In this study by Project On Government Oversight, it shows that growth in defense contracts do not equal growth in employment. Since 2006, the top five defense contractors have seen more contracts while employing fewer people.

Washington, D.C.-based public policy scholar and former Rand Corporation analyst Jeremiah Goulka says the defense industry holds Congress hostage with the threat of losing jobs but he says Americans need to look at the bigger picture.

JEREMIAH GOULKA, PUBLIC POLICY SCHOLAR: We have to think about the human impact – — OUT 3:22 it will actually force to buy new models, new models are always more expensive —- IN 4:32 – A lot of what your fanciest fighter planes can do – OUT 4:43 It’s pointless.

Pollin argues these cuts will not weaken the military drastically but will only place the military spending back to the share of the economy that is was in 2000, mainly due to the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

POLLIN: The fact of the matter is, the real cuts are just the fact that these wars are ending. That’s the real cut.

Now, if we were to impose the sequestration cuts on top of the winding down of the two wars, we would move from a military budget where it is today, at 4.7 percent of the economy, 4.7 percent of GDP, down to 3 percent of GDP by 2017.

And that would just bring us back to where the military budget was as a share of the economy in the year 2000, the last year that Clinton was in office. That is the worst-case scenario from the military standpoint. That’s the worst-case scenario.

And, by the way, in case we manage to find new places to fight wars, the sequestration rules are completely out the window. The sky is the limit. The military can spend whatever it wants. That’s all built into these agreements.

With $43 billion dollars automatic cuts expected to take place on Friday, policy director of Just Foreign Policy Robert Naiman predicts Hagel will continue to move in the direction of increasing more defense cuts.

NAIMAN: I don’t expect him to speak but I do hope that he will be different than Panetta’s outrageous ridicule that the sky falling. 13:50 – Hagel is going to look at the budget – pick some things and look at those”

But Goulka remains skeptical about any major shift in policy with Hagel at the Pentagon.

GOULKA: IN 8:16 — If we’re going to talk about Hagel doing real change, I just don’t have a hard time be – full of hyperbole – OUT – 8:33 That’s ludicrous…

IN 7:50 We don’t need to have the capability two major threat – and what pops up is real threats anything that might pop up. We’re usually talking be a challenge -OUT 8:11 full of redundancies.

In a recent piece in the American Prospect, Goulka creates an outline of principles as to how to create a more lean defense budget. But he adds that it’s not Hagel’s appointment that will initiate a change of course —- but it will require a change in consensus within Washington about America’s military dominance….an ideal he says that President Obama stands by.

GOULKA: IN – 7:27 – Obama is just one in a long line of Presidents who push for an extremely overstrong, over-powerful military that can than can do far more than what it needs to do. OUT 7:50 – and can do far more that what it can possibly need to do.

With Friday’s automatic spending cuts deadline approaching, Hagel position will most likely be revealed in the comings days.

For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.