The seventh floor of the Newseum, Washington’s monument to the journalism trade, is a swank enough space for events and parties. Nice access to the roof. Clean escape route for caterers. More TV screens than you need unless you’re brainwashing some droogs.
I first visited the seventh floor in early 2010, when it was taken over for the launch of a new magazine, Fiscal Times. Funded in part by Pete Peterson, the former commerce secretary turned finger-in-every-pot austerity guru, the magazine had soft-launched with a series of pieces about the momentum for spending cuts. That night, as bartenders mixed our drinks, Peterson told us that the age of fiscal responsibility was at hand, and we’d all be there to cover it.
This Tuesday, I returned to the Newseum conference rooms to watch Republicans end the austerity movement. The Foreign Policy Initiative, a think tank that has been amplifying the voices of conservative hawks since 2009, gathered friends and media to talk about the challenges of the second Obama term. First among them: defense cuts, the ones in the “sequester” of the 2011 debt-limit deal. Republicans needed to stop them. Sen. Jon Kyl, the retiring GOP whip from Arizona, informed us that he’d been going back over his papers and rediscovering great wisdom.
“Ronald Reagan, he had a lot of great stuff,” said Kyl. “And one of the things he said was: You know, I’ve seen a lot of wars in my life. None of them were caused because we were too strong.”
And according to Kyl, America could not be strong if it allowed the sequester to bite down. The final debt deal, supported by a majority of Republicans and Democrats, offered Washington a choice between $1.2 trillion of cuts to spending and a supercommittee that would get a chance to develop smarter, less blunt cuts. The supercommittee failed, so those spending cuts—$600 billion each to defense and nondefense budgets over 10 years—are scheduled to start on Jan. 2, 2013.
It’s not perfect. Actually, more than that, the plan was designed to be lousy, so politicians would panic and find smarter cuts elsewhere in their budgets. But it’s austerity, and for three-odd years, conservatives have been telling us we need austerity. Any less would be “generational theft,” the government had to balance its budget just like any household or business—and so on. You remember Glenn Beck. You heard all of this.
Unfortunately, the country that conservatives want to govern can’t really be austere. “Part of the price of leadership is having an adequate defense to meet the commitments you have around the world,” said Kyl.
“I was chatting with people in the reception room, reminiscing,” said Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor and FPI co-founder. “I was in government 20 years ago. We could not do the first Gulf War now.”
“Right!” said Kyl.
“Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on Aug. 1, 1990,” said Kristol. “We had 500,000 troops in Saudi Arabia Maybe we didn’t need 500,000, but it was a nice margin of comfort, and that war went pretty well, and it was a pretty good model. Maybe it ended a bit early, but that’s another story.”