Political Offensive Could Leave Us Defenseless

With only weeks to go before the midterm congressional elections, partisans on both sides of the aisle are focusing on a repulsive congressional sex scandal. The now infamous Mark Foley affair is on the front pages of every newspaper and Internet site and it remains the talk of the 24-hour cable news cycle.  If you believe most professional pundits, the Foley scandal has now sealed the GOP’s fate this fall and will lead to Democratic control of at least one (if not both) chambers of Congress.

If that happens, many serious issues that deserve attention are likely to be ignored. One such issue is missile defense.

North Korea again made news this week when it announced its intention to conduct a nuclear weapons test. That provocative action again reminds us of the importance of developing a comprehensive national missile defense program, one that’s capable of neutralizing any potential future North Korean missile attack on U.S. soil. But to ensure that our missile defenses are reliable, lawmakers have to fund the program.

If Democrats regain control of Congress, that is unlikely to happen.

Simply thumbing through the pages of the Congressional Record can tell us all we need to know about how important Democrats think missile defense is. Consider the following history of Democratic amendment strategies on each sequential Defense Authorization Act in the U.S. Senate:

  • In the 98th Congress 83 percent of Congressional Democrats supported a motion to significantly weaken the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
  • During the next congress (99th) Senate Democrats offered another SDI-killing amendment which would have stripped funding from the program. Again, 83 percent of their colleagues concurred.
  • The 100th Congress saw a different strategy. Democrats offered an amendment to transfer $700 million from SDI to NASA for space shuttle costs.
  • In the 101st Congress Senate Democrats went after SDI with an amendment that would strip it of $594 million in funding.
  • Democrats grew emboldened in the 102nd Congress, offering an amendment to strip SDI by $1 billion.
  • SDI was renamed in the 103rd Congress. Democrats offered an amendment to strip the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization of $400 million in funding.
  • In the 104th Congress Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan offered an amendment to cut $300 million needed to develop and deploy a multi-site national missile defense system that would guard against limited ballistic missile attacks by 2003. The amendment also would have prevented the deployment of an initial system scheduled to be in place by 1999.
  • Democrats went big in the 105th, looking to defund missile defense by $3.3 billion.
  • Democrats adopted a more creative approach in the 106th Congress. Sen. Dick Durbin offered an amendment that would essentially subject missile defense programs to near-endless testing before funding could flow to the program.
  • Sen. Carl Levin offered an amendment in the 108th to cut $515 million from missile defense.
  • Finally, in the 109th Congress Sens. Jack Reed and Carl Levin sought to strike $50 million intended for the purchase of additional interceptor missiles.

This is a track record that should concern anyone. The votes listed above are only part of the record, there are many, many more congressional votes taken over the last two decades in which Democrats have followed the same pattern. Additionally, there’s the Clinton administration’s record—it repeatedly bottled up attempts to beef up the nation’s missile defense system.

Indeed, were it not for the Clinton administration, America’s missile defense system today would be much stronger.

The Heritage Foundation’s Baker Spring explains in a recent policy paper that, “On February 12, 1991, the Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, Ambassador Henry F. Cooper, and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, Stephen J. Hadley (now National Security Advisor to President Bush), provided a briefing to the press and public on the Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS) missile defense plan.” Spring adds, “The plan was based on the analysis of the trends in the development and deployment of ballistic missiles throughout the world at that time. In hindsight the basis of the plan is justified by North Korea’s ballistic missile capabilities today.”

Spring goes on to note that at least a portion of the system would be operational today had Clinton not abandoned the program.

So while North Korea continues to plot, the D.C. fever swamps are infested with vile scandals. Meanwhile, too many are ignoring issues like the future of missile defense. We ignore those issues at our peril.