Pingree and Defense Spending

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We're launching a new column here at AMG, titled Left Brain, Right Brain. This week we're digging into Rep. Pingree's votes on defense spending.

Left Brain: Steven Biel

Steven Biel is a political consultant and former campaign director at the progressive group He lives in Portland with his wife and two kids.

Right Brain: Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson is a political communications consultant, veteran of Maine Republican campaigns, and owner of As Maine Goes. He lives in Falmouth.

Lance Dutson: Just a few short weeks ago, Chellie Pingree lauded the inclusion of billions of dollars in funding for shipbuilding in this year's Defense Budget, saying this funding was "Good news for Bath Iron Works" and "an important step in the right direction." But, as she has repeatedly done over the years, when the budget came to the floor for a vote, she voted against it.

Steven: What she voted against was a $612 billion monstrosity of a Pentagon budget that continues the absurd Washington tradition of fighting multiple wars on a credit card. That bill includes what amounts to a slush fund for war called the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, or OCO. She was right to oppose it, and if it gets to President Obama's desk in its current form, he'll be right to veto it.

Lance: No doubt there are bits and pieces of any budget like that people don't like, but the bottom line is she voted against jobs at Bath Iron Works. And despite the media's refusal to point out the hypocrisy of her statements, people are beginning to notice. My sources tell me that the shipbuilder's unions are on to her double-talk, and that her Chief of Staff got an earful from BIW union chiefs about this vote.

Steven: The truth is that Chellie and Bruce have worked together across party lines to advocate for BIW. Chellie and Bruce wrote a joint letter to budget negotiators pushing for DDG-51 funding that will keep BIW going strong. But that won't stop your side from running attack ads misrepresenting her vote for fiscal sanity at the Pentagon as a vote against BIW, will it?

Lance: Pingree's votes against funding for BIW and redevelopment at Brunswick Naval Air Station are hard to obscure. They are a matter of record. Her attempts to weed out unpleasantries from the budget may be well-intentioned, but there are other ways to fix those things that don't involve putting the jobs of 5,000-plus Mainers at risk.

Voting against jobs at BIW for the sake of an ideological opposition to U.S. foreign policy is kind of like shutting down government over Planned Parenthood--overblown reactions to specific ideological disputes that end up doing real harm to real people.

Steven: You don't have to be ideologically opposed to war to think we shouldn't be funding wars on a credit card. More and more grassroots Republicans as well as Democrats are getting tired of spending almost 60% of the discretionary budget on being the world's policeman while our schools, roads, and bridges rot here at home. BIW is strong and will continue to be strong because of the effective advocacy of highly respected legislators like Chellie Pingree.

And while we're calling out hypocrisy, how do you justify Republicans cheating the Budget Control Act (aka sequester) year after year by funding our wars in this so-called emergency "contingency" account? It's not a contingency if it's how we're routinely funding our foreign adventures for decades on end.

Lance: I'm not sure how Pingree can be considered an advocate when she consistently votes against the funding that keeps the shipyard open. But put that aside--are you suggesting we need stand-alone shipbuilding funding votes?

Steven: She's an advocate because she's working pragmatically across party lines to make sure that even if she doesn't get everything she wants that Maine's interests are still represented. It's not sexy, but it's how things get done in Washington.

What's amazing to me is hearing Republicans talk about the Pentagon budget as a big New Deal-style jobs program. If that's what it is, then so be it. But then yes, let's debate the bill on those grounds. Most voters would rather put Americans to work doing nation-building here at home, and we’d create a lot more jobs too.

Lance: The positive developments here are that 1. the budget passed, and that means jobs are protected at BIW, and 2. unions in Maine are starting to see real evidence that their allegiance to the Democratic Party may be misplaced. We saw a major erosion in the Democrats' labor stranglehold when the BIW unions endorsed Senator Collins last year, and this growing schism between some of Maine's most powerful unions and Congresswoman Pingree opens the door to a pro-labor Republican to challenge her in 2016.

Steven: We'll see about that. First you'd have to get a pro-labor Republican through the primary. That's not where your party is trending.

But before we wrap this topic, I should give credit where credit is due. The House Republicans took a break from threatening to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood and spending millions of tax dollars to drive down Hillary Clinton's poll numbers long enough to do some actual legislating. That's progress!