SOUTHFIELD, Michigan — Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Monday said he would “get rid of” the caps on defense spending known as sequestration if president.
“If I were president, that would not in any way impact my priority needs to rebuild the national security of this country,” he said at a national security forum hosted by Americans for Peace Prosperity and Security in Michigan.
The Republican presidential contender weighed in on sequestration just days after coming under fire on the issue by one of the party’s leading defense hawks and one of Kasich’s opponents in the primary, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
During a campaign stop in New Hampshire this weekend, Graham said Kasich was “not ready to be president” because, according to Graham, “he has no problem with sequestration." Graham’s comments came after Kasich, in a radio interview, said that sequestration “doesn’t matter to me” when talking about reforms he favors.
Kasich’s spokesman clarified that the governor wants to “lift the sequester for military and spend more if necessary." But the fact that Graham took aim at Kasich underscores the difficulty the governor could face squaring two of the main, and yet often contradictory, priorities of his campaign: Fiscal conservatism, and reinvigorating the military. In first laying out his foreign policy priorities, the Ohio governor declared that “the economy is the forgotten starting point” for a discussion on national security.
And while fiscal conservatism remains his main calling card, as chairman of the Budget Committee when Congress passed a balanced budget, and a key asset in his pitch to conservatives, much of the party’s donor class and establishment are staunch defense hawks and want to see the budget cuts to defense lifted.
Kasich attempted to thread the needle between those two priorities on Monday, reaffirming his commitment to “reform” the Pentagon while acknowledging America needs a strong defense.
The Pentagon, Kasich said, “is a place that is tangled up with bureaucracy and red tape, and it’s often difficult to get systems researched, developed and then deployed within a reasonable period of time.”
“We don't want to waste money in the Pentagon — we want to reform that system,” he later added.
But he said with those things in mind, “we need to rebuild our defenses…it’s a top priority.” Kasich aligned himself with the party’s leading hawk and 2008 presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and said it was time to do away with sequestration.
“Get rid of [defense sequestration]. You cannot let those kinds of things get in the way of building a strong national defense, and I think that’s where Senator McCain is, and that’s where I am,” he said.
Kasich insisted both reforming the Pentagon and balancing the budget were doable, and, in fact, “not that hard.”
“It’s the lack of will on the part of members who were elected to get us a road map towards a balanced budget” that’s the issue.
"I don’t know why people in Washington think it’s so difficult. It’s not that hard. It’s just, taking this government and making it work. But you can’t pay attention to politics,” he added.