When the moment arrives in Washington to strike a big deal, it is there for the briefest of political seconds and then vanishes. Miss it, and it is lost.
That moment is upon soon-to-depart House Speaker John Boehner and his likely successor, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (though the latter may well have to denounce the deal Boehner needs to broker).
The GOP House leadership ought to seize this moment, and with it, give President Barack Obama a last chance at doing something worth remembering at home while setting up the next president to begin the long process of recovering the American position abroad on the strength of renewed and rebounding military might that begins with a serious infusion of critically needed cash.
There is in place a continuing resolution that funds the federal government through December 11. Now, before the leaves fall, the President, the speaker and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should sit down and negotiate a spending deal that will run through September 30, 2017.
It would be a massive, 20-month agreement that recognizes the political reality that President Obama has a veto and enough senators to sustain it but also an interest in not leaving a shattered Pentagon behind him — and with it the ongoing reverses across the globe that seem almost certain to define his tenure as among the worst of any occupant of the Oval Office.
The President has avoided a 9/11, and he ordered the hit on Osama bin Laden, but in every other respect, his tenure has marked disaster for the United States on the world stage.
What Jimmy Carter did
If President Obama studies the (few) accounts of President Jimmy Carter’s miscarried administration, he will note that all of them praise the sometimes mocked Georgian for waking to the realities of the world nearly at the end of his time in office. Following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, President Carter in effect turned on himself and sent resources to the military he had not previously thought needed.
President Obama, seeing another Russian thrust 35 years later (and a parallel operation by China in the South China Sea, not to mention the Islamic State’s ongoing advances), can act the same way as Carter did, but Obama requires some covering smoke from the GOP. And if the worst nightmare happens and the dreaded second 9/11 hits the country, the President could at least point to this deal as an opening paragraph in his defense.
But just responding to a world of legitimate threats isn’t enough. Because he is President Obama, he needs a win, a football to spike. Because the GOP is the responsible party, it should give it to him.
Another, but much smaller, domestic stimulus package devoted to infrastructure, or whatever pet cause the President loves today, is the prize that could accompany the robust, necessary and comprehensive destruction of the sequester on the Department of Defense via a massive, two-year infusion of funding for DOD.
Also to be included: a rise in the debt ceiling that would take that marker out to the fall of the next president’s first year in office and the budget negotiations of a new chief executive and a new Congress.
The President and his party have said he must have a dollar in new domestic spending for every dollar in new defense appropriations. This is a silly, wildly wasteful and politically undoable demand for the GOP. But a 3:1 ratio of new defense to new domestic spending or even something slightly less would put the Pentagon on a rational budget basis and allow, if nothing else, the Navy to begin a shipbuilding program that meets the baseline needs on which all serious experts are agreed.
It could also allocate money to boost military readiness while stopping the hemorrhaging of young officers and experienced NCOs from the ranks of all the services.
A new president will have to deal with the new speaker and his new leadership team as well as the wily McConnell for the budget of 2018. One of the top issues: the entitlement and Obamacare reform that will be required to bail out Medicaid as millions enroll and doctors flee from seeing them.
The national debt that has skyrocketed under President Obama will also have to be tackled by the new people in the spring of ’17. Tough choices are ahead, but this President will not make them.
A golden parachute?
All the GOP can do is ease him out, giving him a golden parachute of talking points on which to dine out for what we hope is a long and peaceful retirement on the speaking circuit, accompanied by gold watches for his favorite interest groups paid for from the domestic spending spree necessary to get us out of the gridlock that looms even as the world burns.
The budget hawks will hate this, loudly and for some time, but they know — if they bother to visit the highly secure rooms in the Congress where the most sensitive intelligence can be studied — just how bad it is abroad and in how many places.
Rebuilding our gutted military cannot wait for January 2017 to begin. It must begin now.
The good news is that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is thought, like Robert Gates before him, to be one of those rare D.C. people trusted on all sides. The even better news is that the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs, USMC Gen. “Fighting Joe” Dunford, has just taken a chair he can occupy for four years and provide Carter with serious, sustained, strategic leadership for rebuilding the military.
On what will the President chose to spend his one-last-time bundle of bucks? I really couldn’t care less and neither should the congressional GOP.
If the President wanted to open and endow Obama Clinics in America’s 100 largest cities with a billion each in construction, operation and endowment funds to care for the desperately poor, that would be both a good thing and a big legacy, and if it gets us beyond the coming collision and kabuki dance of a shutdown, here’s to the ribbon-cuttings.
Or the President could fund the bridge rebuilding endowment if he wants. Again, this proposal is an exercise in getting us to the next president and a new day. It is a short-term emergency measure to set the stage for a campaign on how to rebuild after eight years of the locusts.
But John Boehner must lead the way and be carried out on his shield but confident, at least, of the admiration of people who know what the American military — and thus the American people — need, right now.
Do the deal, Mr. Boehner, then hit the links.