Lawmakers bicker on China, broken windows at hearing on Pentagon cuts

Republicans and Democrats bickered with one another and witnesses at a Wednesday hearing that was supposed to examine how Pentagon cuts would affect the economy.

House Armed Services Committee members initially heard an analysis released Tuesday warning of 1 million job losses next year if the deficit-cutting supercommittee fails to reach a deal.

From there, the hearing veered wildly off course, serving as an example of how unfocused the debate on military spending has been since the debt-ceiling deal was signed into law in early August. 

Minutes after George Mason University economist Stephen Fuller explained that job losses from a supercommittee failure could raise the nation’s unemployment rate by 0.6 percent, University of Maryland business Professor Peter Morici delivered the first morning’s first twist. 

As he would several times during the hearing, Morici warned that Washington must solve what he called the “China challenge,” meaning combating how Beijing marches to its own drummer on many international commerce and trade issues. 

At one point, Morici delivered a lengthy diatribe about what he sees as the “real problem.”

That would not be China, despite his repeated warnings about Chinese economic and military muscle flexing, but that America “is terribly bad” at delivering services like healthcare to its citizens. 

Later, Morici told the panel that if Washington fails to answer China’s maneuvers in the global economy, “there will be some interesting confrontation about who gets to sell [goods] where.” 

At several points, Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) had to urge Morici to be “brief” when he wanted to add to other witnesses’ answers, as members’ time already had expired. 

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) asked the academics about the merits of creating jobs by a program under which the windows in the Rayburn House Office Building would be destroyed each night and replaced before lawmakers and aides returned the next morning.

The apparent jab at using infrastructure projects across the nation to create jobs, which many Democrats and some Republicans support, left the witnesses confused and led to a testy back-and-forth between Bartlett and Morici. 

“This is one of the strangest hearings I've sat in on this committee,” said Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), an Armed Services member for more than a decade. 

Republican and Democratic members, including Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), bickered about how best to use government dollars. At one point, Johnson told an eager-to-interrupt Morici: “I have the microphone.” 

When the Maryland professor continued his attempt to break into Johnson’s statement, the lawmaker told Morici: “I am certainly entitled … to my own opinion.” 

And Rep. Randy ForbesJames (Randy) Randy ForbesToo much ‘can do,’ not enough candor Trump makes little headway filling out Pentagon jobs Why there's only one choice for Trump's Navy secretary MORE (R-Va.) opened his allotted time by vowing to return the focus to issues that actually fall under the panel’s purview. 

Amid the hearing’s bizarre moments, there was some substantive debate. 

Sanchez, for instance, said ample federal savings could be found by removing all U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible. 

She panned the George W. Bush administration for never even proposing to raise taxes as it was launching two troop-intensive land wars that came with huge price tags. 

“You cannot have it both ways,” Sanchez said. 

Feldstein said one way to use Defense spending to give the economy a shot in the arm would be to order the military services to accelerate planned platform buys and maintenance work on systems they intend to keep in their inventories for some time. 

Feldstein told Rep. Susan Davis, another California Democrat, that the debt commission chaired by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former Clinton administration Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles erred in proposing $100 billion in Defense cuts over five years. 

Such recommendations should be based on strategy, Feldstein said, not simply amounts of money.