Policy

Kaine's Defense Bill Concerns Shed Light on His Decision-Making Process

Offered a reasoned argument against John McCain's pet initiatives

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine urged caution before moving forward on what was billed as the most expansive Pentagon overhaul in three decades. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Tucked at the very end of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s 678-page report on the annual Pentagon policy bill is a wonky analysis from Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia detailing his reservations about making swift and wholesale changes to the Pentagon bureaucracy.  

A hawkish Democrat who is the party's presumptive vice presidential nominee, Kaine ultimately supported the defense authorization bill, despite his concerns about the organizational and administrative changes championed by the committee chairman, John McCain of Arizona.  

But the “additional views” he penned for the committee’s report on the bill provide a respectful and reasoned argument against the McCain provisions, which include reducing the number of general officers, eliminating the Pentagon acquisition, technology and logistics office, and standing down the joint program office for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.  

While he stressed the need to streamline the Defense Department, Kaine warned against hasty changes, imploring his colleagues to further study the long-term effects of the new policies before pushing them into law.  

Kaine suggested that McCain’s provisions may ultimately be the solution, but he argued that lawmakers and committee staff need more time, and more input from outsiders, before upending the department’s organization. Without more detailed analysis, he warned that there could be unintended consequences for the force.  

“Last year we did not provide a pay increase to general officers; this year we reduced their number by 25 percent,” he wrote. “The combination of these two provisions makes me wonder whether we are doing all we can to cultivate the next Eisenhower, Halsey, Abrams or Dunford.”  

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Kaine’s state is, of course, home to the Pentagon. But his ability to dive easily into one of the wonkier parts of the defense bill while also diplomatically opposing many of McCain’s pet initiatives showcases his strengths as a senator in general and, more specifically, a thoughtful member of the Armed Services panel.  

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Armed Services Democrat, described Kaine as a thoughtful member who has made significant contributions to the committee, is respected by both sides of the aisle and comes to hearings prepared.  

Reed, who was with Kaine when he got word Friday that he was Hillary Clinton's pick, said the Virginia Democrat asks penetrating questions and is particularly motivated to do what is best for troops in the field.  

“I see him as someone who is very interested in getting things done, understanding ultimately, that takes a group on both sides to come together,” Reed said.  

Kaine said he shares McCain’s desire to improve the Defense Department’s organization and acknowledged that the chairman has reached a “comfort level” with his own proposals. But Kaine nonetheless urged caution before moving forward with what has been billed as the most expansive Pentagon overhaul in three decades.  

Indeed, Kaine attempted to replace McCain’s language with an amendment that would establish a new commission to ensure that changes are “measured and informed,” but that failed on a 16-10 vote during the panel’s markup.  

“Each member of this committee has the solemn duty to cast their vote based on their confidence and understanding of these proposals. We should take our independent oversight responsibility very seriously,” Kaine wrote. “I do not believe that voting in favor of these proposals following a few days of ‘in-office’ review of an embargoed product fulfills that responsibility.”  

[ Kaine Said Obama Needed Congressional Approval to Fight ISIS ]  

As a senator from Virginia, one of the most defense-heavy states in the country, Kaine has been a strong advocate for defense spending, arguing for an end to the caps outlined in the 2011 Budget Control Act. He pushed, and received support, for nonbinding language in the authorization bill, raising concerns about the effects of those caps on national security and acknowledging that relief should include both defense and nondefense spending.  

But while Kaine routinely touts money secured for shipbuilding and other home-state projects, he also regularly takes on less parochial and more policy-heavy topics, such as his much-publicized push for an authorization for use of military force against the Islamic State.  

Kaine has also tended to side with Republicans on some matters of military might, including his vote during the Armed Services Committee’s closed-door markup of the authorization bill to eliminate the word “limited” from the National Missile Defense Act of 1999. The 17-year-old law establishes that it is U.S. policy to defend the country against “limited ballistic-missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized or deliberate).”  

And he recently signed on the bipartisan letter to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter requesting that he continue support for “robust” spending on the so-called triad of nuclear weapons: on land, at sea and in the air. Kaine’s stance potentially puts him at odds with the Democratic party platform, which seeks to curb reliance on nuclear weapons, and the Obama administration, which is considering several arms-control options in its waning days.  

Reed, another co-signer, said the letter was an appropriate request to urge the administration to be thoughtful and careful at a critical time for nuclear deterrence.  

“This is one of those moments where we are at a point where some of the challenges and threats of the Cold War, some of the technologies of the Cold War, are changing dramatically and we have to change as well,” Reed said. “We have to do it thoughtfully and methodically.”

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