ACRU Senior Fellow Ken Blackwell wrote this column appearing September 2, 2010, on The Huffington Post website.
Americans might soon have another reason to ask themselves: "What is the president thinking?"
With the flourish of a veto pen, President Obama is likely to disappoint and confuse both friends and some foes this fall; an interesting choice given his approval-rating challenges.
How will President Obama manage to infuriate some conservatives and many liberals all at once? By vetoing a defense spending bill -- a bill that would please some national defense conservatives by supporting our troops and please liberals by foolishly ending the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
So why would he miss what some political observers call a win-win opportunity?
The provision the Obama administration opposes (so strongly that they will choose a veto) is actually one many Democrats and Republicans support. If enacted as-is, the bill would anger social conservatives (we are group he never counts on) and one interested party: a large defense contractor.
As passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, the defense bill funds development of two engines for the Joint Strike Fighter -- a plane that will be the fighter jet of the future for both the U.S. and our allies around the world.
Development of two engines means pitting two manufacturers against one another. The competition will breed innovation and cost savings over the life of the fighter jet's program. The two-engine approach also means having a backup if for some reason there is a problem with the engine that ultimately makes it into the fuselage of the plane. For reasons from efficiency to safety, the development of two engines is the chosen approach of the U.S. House of Representatives. It also has a cost-benefit stamp of approval from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The competition that is encouraged by the two-engine approach is, however, not an ideal scenario for manufacturer Pratt and Whitney, who otherwise would fully own the Joint Strike Fighter's engine development and production for as long as the plane is in the sky. That's big money billions over decades -- so it's not surprising Pratt and Whitney has pulled out all the stops in its lobbying campaign.
The U.S. Senate will act on the defense-spending bill after they return from recess. If they agree with their colleagues in the House and the experts at the GAO that the two-engine approach is the best way to spend taxpayers' hard-earned money, then the President has promised to uncap his veto pen. This will be big news, and it will be a bad story for the president. While homosexual rights groups will be disappointed over the missed opportunity to repeal the conservative supported "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," most Americans will be stunned by the willingness of the president to put off funding for our troops.
Why has the Obama administration dug in its heels on this issue? Is it an example of successful lobbying? Could a single defense contractor really have that much influence over the Obama administration? I doubt it.
Or could the Joint Strike Fighter engine veto threat simply be a straw man that will enable the president to strangle needed support for our troops in the Middle East, thereby hobbling their effectiveness and laying the groundwork for an early withdrawal? Perhaps.
Has his support for so-called progressive social policy in the armed forces been simply lip service to an influential left-wing constituency? I don't think so.
No one knows the answers to these questions. But they will surely be asked. Many will once again ask "What is he thinking?" And his poll numbers will continue to fall.