WASHINGTON: Marion Blakey stepped up her three-year campaign against sequestration by challenging Congress more directly than ever in her annual address. Last year, the head of the Aerospace Industries Association called on legislators to “step up.” This year, she suggested that if they don’t, “fed up” voters may force them to step down.
“Look at the polls. The American people are fed up with Washington, fed up with elected officials letting ideological extremism serve as an excuse for failing to listen, and the public is truly opposed to small factions of party activists hijacking things,” Blakey said. “My final message to the 114th Congress and all the candidates that are looking to run in 2016: remember those 69 percent of voters who want to back candidates who support more spending on national security.”
What 69 percent is that? Blakey was citing a poll that AIA itself commissioned from Harris of 818 registered voters. Having delved into that survey, I’d say it’s not particularly useful as a gauge of public opinion. (AIA gave me the full data, so you can read them above and decide for yourself). It’s a series of leading questions, which invoke the damage done by defense cuts and the rising threat of the Islamic State and China (oddly, not Russia), but which never mention that higher defense spending would require higher taxes, less domestic spending, or more debt. With that kind of set-up, AIA naturally got the answers it wanted. But this particular poll is pretty consistent with other reporting that the public has gotten increasingly and understandably anxious about national security in recent months.
The poll is just one small part of a much larger effort aimed at Congress. “This is the first time ever for our industry that we’ve engaged in a major organized grass-roots campaign,” Blakey said: “a state-of-the-art grass-roots coalition” under the AIA banner of “Second To None.” “In just the last week,” she said, “we added more than 13,000 members, and we are daily growing the list of people who are willing to advocate forcefully to our elected officials.”
To Blakey’s credit, and in contrast to her pollsters, the AIA chief acknowledged undoing defense cuts would not be free. Ending sequester will require “a comprehensive deal that involves both revenue and entitlement reform,” she said, unflinchingly grasping the third-rail issue for each party. Indeed, Blakey made bold to say a year ago.
“We look back on a few years of paralyzing gridlock here in Washington, [filled with] political polarization and dangerous procrastination,” Blakey said. Now, “more and more legislators, alert to changing public opinion, really want to address the defense cuts.”