McCain’s salvo falls flat

MCCAIN’S SALVO FALLS FLAT…. At the closing session of the “fiscal responsibility summit” at the White House yesterday, President Obama graciously introduced John McCain and invited him to go first in raising a point or asking a question.

McCain apparently thought he’d get in a little dig at his former campaign rival, and began talking about the bloated Pentagon budget. “We all know how large the defense budget is,” the Arizona Republican said. “We all know that the cost overruns, your helicopter is now going to cost as much as Air Force One. I don’t think that there’s any more graphic demonstration of how good ideas have cost taxpayers enormous amount of money.”

The president, taking away the senator’s fun, agreed.

“I’ve already talked to [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates about a thorough review of the helicopter situation. The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me. Of course, I’ve never had a helicopter before. So, you know, maybe — maybe I’ve been deprived and I didn’t know it. But I think it is an example of the procurement process gone amuck, and we’re going to have to fix it.”

This almost certainly isn’t what McCain had in mind. At a White House gathering on fiscal responsibility, McCain wanted to needle Obama on wasting federal funds on a new Marine One helicopter. Instead, the president voiced his agreement.

Jonathan Chait noted, “This is Obama at his most appealing. He makes a gracious introduction of his rival, who in turn tries to stick in the knife by painting him as wasting taxpayer dollars on needless luxuries. Obama, rather than sniping back, turns around and agrees with McCain while making the point that he’s hardly accustomed to extravagance.”

There’s also the larger issue of the Defense budget, and McCain’s comment may have helped the administration’s goals on the issue. As Sam Stein added, “On a broader level, there are a variety of political difficulties involved in tightening up on defense procurements: thousands of jobs are tied to the spending, and it opens up a president to charges that he’s underfunding the Pentagon. If Obama wants to tackle these issues now, it seems that McCain could serve as a useful bipartisan ally in the Senate.”

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