Election 2014: What’s Next for Defense?

Election 2014: What’s Next for Defense?

The results of election 2014 carry high stakes for the national security policy establishment and industrial complex. With Republicans poised to increase their majority in the House and take over the U.S. Senate, the defense industry is viewed as one of the beneficiaries of the power shift.

A big question on the minds of Pentagon officials and defense industry CEOs is whether the new balance of power in Washington will mark a turning point after four years of fiscal turbulence fueled by partisan warfare. Analysts have predicted that a Republican majority will tip the scales in favor of larger military budgets and possible relief from the 2011 law that set strict spending caps.

Another unknown is whether the new Republican leadership will change course on defense and foreign policy issues given voters’ unhappiness with President Obama’s management of international crises. GOP defense hawks will seize on voters’ discontent and the perception of American weakness to push for higher military spending. They will face resistance, though, from hardcore anti-spending Republicans and from outside groups that don’t believe the Pentagon deserves a get-out-of-sequester free card.

Chance for a Budget Deal?

The accepted wisdom up until a few months ago held that a Senate flip to the GOP would not change the entrenched political polarization that has paralyzed Washington for the last four years and has flustered the Pentagon and the defense industry. That thinking changed as seemingly unforeseen crises flared up over the summer and fall, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the rise of the Islamic State and the Ebola outbreak.

Analysts warned that voters have become increasingly intolerant of games of chicken and brinkmanship, and they will expect the new Congress to work with the administration in resolving these crises.

Pro-defense lawmakers and Pentagon contractors have been disappointed by congressional Republicans’ anti-spending agenda that led to the 2011 Budget Control Act, which imposed caps on discretionary programs that would slash funding by more than $1 trillion from 2012 through 2021. Critics have blasted the BCA for targeting discretionary spending but failing to take any action to control the rising costs of mandatory entitlement benefits that are the fastest growing piece of the federal budget pie.

Defense insiders see a post-election environment that favors increased military spending.

“Up until this year, national security was pretty low on voters’ radars,” said Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador and undersecretary of defense for policy. Congress has now gotten the message that voters don’t want to see the United States project weakness, Edelman said last month at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

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