The latest “news” out of the conservative blogosphere is that President Obama is launching an attack on military families. How? By closing commissaries—grocery stores that offer food and other products at a discount to service-members, veterans, and their families.
“Obama’s wasting billions on food stamps, Obamacare and every other boondoggle you can imagine, but he has no qualms about sticking it to dirt poor soldiers,” wrote one blogger for the Rightwing News website. Likewise, a writer at the RightScoop complains that “This administration wants the military to take it on the chin but if you talk about cutting one of their social programs that’s littered with waste and abuse they cry bloody murder.”
I grew up in a military family—both of my parents served in the Navy—and can attest to the value of commissaries, which offer big savings (upwards of 30 percent) to shoppers. If the administration were targeting the stores for cuts, it would be hugely disappointing, especially since it wouldn’t gain much for the trouble; the 248 commissaries in the United States and abroad receive $1.4 billion in funding.
Here’s the thing though: There is no “plan” to cut the commissary system.
At most, the Pentagon has floated this as one way to meet sequestration, which leaves its budget at $475 billion for fiscal year 2014, which is $20 billion less than what it receives under the most recent continuing resolution, and $50 billion less than it’s budget request. And even if the administration decides to reduce funding for commissaries, it still needs approval from Congress.
These aren’t imminent cuts, and they don’t come from a place of anti-military antipathy. Indeed, if conservatives want to know why they’re even on the table, they should look at a mirror.
President Obama never wanted the sequester. It was a product of Republican brinksmanship over the debt ceiling, and a near-fanatical desire for spending cuts. The idea was that Republicans would find across-the-board cuts so objectionable that they would agree to a “grand bargain” on long-term deficit reduction. But it backfired; GOP lawmakers—and House Republicans in particular—were content with the cuts, and unwilling to accept higher taxes (key to the president’s alternative) as the price for a deal. And given the extent to which social programs have been cut to the bone—the oft-cited waste is rare—the military is one of the few places where the government can reduce discretionary spending.
In other words, if conservatives are unhappy with the effects of sequestration—which could include commissary cuts—they should direct their anger away from Obama, and towards the Republicans who forced the situation in the first place. Anything less is refusing to take responsibility for the large spending cuts that they’ve pushed for the last three years.
It should be said that this refusal to deal with consequences has become a regular feature of conservatism. For as much as they’re devoted to repealing the Affordable Care Act, few Republican lawmakers have offered an alternative to the law. In the extraordinary event that the shutdown successfully defunded Obamacare, what did Ted Cruz and the GOP have to offer uninsured Americans and others who suffered under the health care status quo ante? Nothing.
The same was true of this summer’s debacle over the farm bill. Republican opposition to food stamps doomed the legislation, but GOP leaders in the House placed the blame on the Democratic minority. “I’m extremely disappointed that Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership have at the last minute chosen to derail years of bipartisan work on the Farm Bill and related reforms,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, apparently oblivious to the fact that conservative intransigence killed the bill.
From sequestration, to the shutdown, to the debt ceiling stand-off, Republicans have generated crises and then blamed Democrats for the consequences. Obviously, some of this is just politics as usual. But given the extent to which many Republicans refuse to adjust their views or approach, regardless of failure, there’s something to be said for the idea that—for some—conservatism can’t fail, it can only be failed.