Commentary: Great idea on sequestration from an unlikely source

The Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-EnquirerOctober 10, 2012 

To say I've never been a fan of Jack Kingston would be an understatement of epic proportions. The U.S. representative from Georgia's 1st Congressional District is one of the most familiar faces of the Republican Party's goofy fringe, that outer-orbit political asteroid belt from which Mitt Romney did a good job of distancing himself Wednesday night.

If not for the Michele Bachmanns and Todd Akins of his party, Kingston might well be the GOP Loony Wing's standard bearer. He's in the camp of those "I don't come from a monkey" people who think the universe is 6,000 years old; he says things like "It's open season on Christians and white folks." And he frequently refers to the opposition as the "Democrat Party" -- an infallible indicator of lowest-common-denominator conservative sandbox rhetoric.

So an article in the Brunswick News last week came as something of a shock, at least to me, and a pleasant one at that.

The subject was budget "sequestration" and its potential devastation of our defense capacity if it goes into effect Jan. 1. The prospect of across-the-board 10 percent budget cuts is something everybody claims to be against, including both presidential candidates, and nobody seems able or willing to prevent.

The Kingston interview was a reminder not to take anything for granted or assume anybody is too predictable, especially in politics.

Just seeing the topic and the interviewee told me everything I needed to know about what was to follow -- or so I thought. Kingston's would surely be the boilerplate approach of gutting every social program and cutting down every safety net, of reining in "welfare" (the kind that goes to poor people with no political clout, not the kind that goes to those faceless entities the Supreme Court has told us are people) in order to render every Pentagon line item inviolable.

Serve me up a plate of crow. Jack Kingston's ideas about military budget tightening were probably the most sensible I've heard yet. The specifics might be debatable (I yield to those more knowledgeable about the details of defense matters), but the approach is unarguable: "Everybody needs to be putting lists on the table," Kingston told the newspaper.

For starters, we should cut our troop strength in Western Europe by half. The threat there is negligible to nonexistent, and we'd cut $30 billion right off the top.

We could save $500 million by cutting spare and redundant equipment. We could save billions more if we ended the manufacture of Army tanks. In this regard (though he probably wouldn't want to hear it), Kingston makes the same point as President Obama, who has scored Republicans for trying to give the Pentagon even more than it asked for. In the case of tanks, the Army has more than 1,500 now, and has indicated it doesn't really need any more.

Other Kingston military economy suggestions include the elimination of expensive but security-irrelevant things like flyovers at sporting events and emergency funding no longer needed for the war in Afghanistan.

But maybe the most impressive point Kingston made -- and one that members of Congress are chronically loath to acknowledge -- is that defense spending is supposed to be about defense, not the profits of contractors, or even jobs for constituents. Lawmakers too often protect their districts, Kingston told the News, at the expense of the national economy. And even (he might have added but didn't) at the expense of national security.

It's a matter of political courage: "I think people have to get used to that and put the country first," Kingston said. "Unless you can justify it, you have to come up with tough decisions."

The congressman will no doubt say or do something soon that will again have Georgians banging their heads on walls, and he's frequently good for a week's worth of Stephen Colbert material.

But it really shouldn't matter where good ideas come from. The fact that so often it does matter says a lot about our screwed-up politics.

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