It’s not at all clear whether Donald Trump’s space force plan appeals to Star Trek, Star Wars or Flash Gordon fans (for the record, my favorite character was Captain Pickard on TNG), but it definitely demonstrates that Trump doesn’t understand or care about the U.S. legislative process, congressional politics or the federal budget.
Legislation. Except in extreme situations, Congress’s typical response throughout U.S. history has almost always been what the framers of the Constitution intended: incremental changes and no rush to judgement. Enemy attacks and weather-related natural disasters have usually prompted a more rapid congressional reaction, as have the need to respond to challenges to the American psyche like Russia’s launch of Sputnik.
But the space force is not (or Trump hasn’t made the case yet) the result of an emergency that requires immediate action and the rapid creation of a new branch of the U.S. military. To the contrary, the White House’s space force announcement this past week left the very definite impression that this was anything but a dire situation that required immediate action.
Think about it.
1. Trump remained on his golfing vacation instead of dramatically returning to Washington, asking House and Senate leaders to call Congress back into session or making a nationally televised speech to demand rapid action.
2. Rather than make the ask himself, Trump had his vice president release the space force plan.
3. The written space force plan was barely an outline and gave the very clear impression that it was put together quickly without much thought.
4. The Trump 2020 reelection campaign has already said it plans to sell space force gear.
Contrast that with President John Kennedy’s speech in 1962 at Rice University where he announced his plan for the United States to go to the moon. As you watch the video clip below, note that Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy’s vice president and an icon in Texas where the speech was made, was sitting behind him. Note too that Kennedy provided the reason for his plan when he said this would enable the U.S. to “win” the space race that Russia had started.
Congressional Politics. The White House didn’t arrange for the GOP congressional leadership or all the House and Senate Republican members on the key military authorization committees and appropriations subcommittees to be at the announcement. There also didn’t appear to be any strong effort to get the military behind it or to prevent the Pentagon and its allies from saying less-than-favorable things.
For example, Retired General Marty Dempsey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tweeted this out on Friday.
71 years ago today, the Department of Defense was established after extensive study with a clear mission codified in legislation. Yesterday, the Space Force was raffled off. However, the Congress is responsible for “raising and sustaining” the military. They must sort this out.
— GEN(R) Marty Dempsey (@Martin_Dempsey) August 10, 2018
Along with what appears to be a lack of collaboration by the White House that will be seen as a slight, this message to Congress not to move quickly by a Pentagon ally is one of the traditional excuses representatives and senators use not to take any action. Trump and his people should have known this.
The Budget. The Trump space force plan was revealed the day before the Treasury confirmed what thebudgetguy.blog and the rest of the federal budget wonk world has long been saying: the deficit is soaring because of the other Trump and GOP tax-loss and spending-increase policies. At the same time Washington’s soaring red ink was revealed for all to see, Trump was proposing to increase it further with billions, or hundreds of billions of dollars of even more spending.
Or maybe not. Trump might be proposing to fund the space force with cuts to other Pentagon programs, or to NASA, or to Social Security and Medicare. Or perhaps Trump wants a space force surtax, or possibly a federal user fee on all those who book a ticket on commercial trips to the Moon.
The space force plan omitted the budget details.
Also confusing as far as the budget is concerned is why Trump is pushing it now, with only about 50 calendar days (and about 15 legislative days) left before the start of fiscal 2019. There is virtually no chance that the space force will make it into any of the appropriations. Even a directive for a study will have trouble being approved.
At least for now, all of this means that Trump’s space force is more of a space farce than anything else. It’s much more likely to be an answer on a future episode of Jeopardy than a moment historians will note.
Follow Stan Collender on Twitter @thebudgetguy
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