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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?

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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 split mostly along party lines. 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 his confirmation by filibustering, marking the first time any cabinet-level nominee was filibustered.

But why was there so much resistance to confirm Hagel, who was 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 on the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

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 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.

ROBERT NAIMAN, POLICY DIRECTOR, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: So we wanted to educate people about the fact that in fact many Israelis have said the same thing. And the real issue here is that people like Lindsey Graham are, you know, as President Obama said in 2008 before he was president, there are some people that want to conflate the, quote-unquote, pro-Israel with being pro-Likud. And there’s this faction in Congress, hardcore Republicans, who in fact support the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and want that to continue forever and don’t want peace, don’t want a two-state solution, don’t want the Palestinians to have an independent state. And that’s why they don’t want people to use the word apartheid, because using the word apartheid calls attention to the fact that there are 2 million people being denied their democratic rights.

DESVARIEUX: 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?

CHUCK HAGEL, FMR. U.S. SENATOR: The Defense Department, I think, in many ways has been bloated. So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down. I don’t think that our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically, in a long, long time.

DESVARIEUX: 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.”

DESVARIEUX: 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.

Also, 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 a 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 is to call attention to the important work that you’re doing on behalf of the nation’s defense 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.

DESVARIEUX: 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 spending on weapons systems has been huge in recent years for weapons systems that we are still hearing are obsolete, are astronomically expensive, have oversight problems. And so we see opportunities to reduce those kinds of projects, including contracts. And yes, they do have implications for employment, for job losses, but that’s not necessarily a reason to avoid such cuts.

But what we do believe in is a strong democratic process, and sequestration is the very opposite of that. This is the culmination in just utterly irresponsible budgeting and backroom deals, last-minute budget deals that involve only the most powerful members of Congress and the president. This is the opposite of good democratic process or responsible budgeting. So we absolutely are not rooting for sequestration. It’s mindless cuts, not the way to go about determining what our national priorities should be.

Now, for folks who do believe that defense cuts ought to happen—and, in fact, a majority of Americans, according to opinion polls, would like to see reductions in defense spending, it may be that sequestration is the only way that those will happen. But it may also be that with this sort of gun to the head, lawmakers could now come up with a smarter plan for reducing military spending in a way that makes much more sense than the sequester.

DESVARIEUX: In an interview about sequestration with codirector 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.

DESVARIEUX: 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 picure.

JEREMIAH GOULKA, PUBLIC POLICY SCHOLAR: We have to think about the human impact of what would happen if someone who works on the production line of an F-35, say. But then again, the F-35 is the most expensive procurement program in military history, which would make it world history, and it’s hard to look at objectively and say that this is somehow necessary and we couldn’t just replace maybe some very old fighter planes with some new-year models of the older planes. I mean, F-16s are still good. You actually could build some new ones. But the defense-industrial base doesn’t want to, and so it actually will shut down lines in order to force the buying of new models. New models are always more expensive. So a lot of what your fanciest fighter planes can do are—well, it’s kind of like buying a Lamborghini to drive around a cul-de-sac. It’s pointless.

DESVARIEUX: Pollin also argues these cuts will not weaken the miilitary 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: 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 Friday’s automatic spending cuts deadline approaching, Hagel’s position will be revealed in the coming days.

For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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