An impressive win on defense spending

AN IMPRESSIVE WIN ON DEFENSE SPENDING…. President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, funding the military for the next year. At a White House event for the bill signing, the president took some time to note the significance of this particular spending bill.

“[W]hen Secretary Gates and I first proposed going after some of these wasteful projects, there were a lot of people in this town who didn’t think it was possible, who were certain we were going to lose, who were certain that we would get steamrolled, who argued that the special interests were too entrenched, and that Washington was simply too set in its ways,” Obama said. “And so I think it’s important to note today we have proven them wrong.”

The president was right to tout the accomplishment. This really is something of a breakthrough.

[A]s the president signed a $680 billion military policy bill on Wednesday, it was clear that he had succeeded in paring back nearly all of the programs and setting a tone of greater restraint than the Pentagon had seen in many years. […]

White House officials say Mr. Obama took advantage of a rare political moment to break through one of Washington’s most powerful lobbies and trim more weapons systems than any president had in decades.

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said Wednesday that the plan was to threaten a veto over a prominent program — in this case, the F-22 fighter jet — “to show we were willing to expend political capital and could win on something that people thought we could not.”

Once the Senate voted in July to stop buying F-22s, Mr. Emanuel said in an interview, that success “reverberated down” to help sustain billions of dollars of cuts in Army modernization, missile defense and other programs.

“They probably get an ‘A’ from the standpoint of their success on their major initiatives,” said Fred Downey, a former Senate aide who is now vice president for national security at the Aerospace Industries Association. “They probably got all of them but one or maybe two, and that’s an extraordinarily high score.”

Now, it’s worth emphasizing that the administration didn’t actually cut defense spending. Obama increased the military budget and doesn’t intend to make reductions so long as we’re in two wars. Rather, the president is spending more money smarter, directing funds away from wasteful projects that few had the political courage to take on.

Defense contractors and lobbyists don’t lose often, especially not in recent years. The White House and the Pentagon took the leap anyway, and scored a big win. Good for them — and for us.