"I've never had a helicopter before, so you know, maybe ..."
UPDATE: VIDEO ADDED BELOW THE JUMP
I like a lot of the things I read in the transcript of the fiscal responsibility meeting -- for example, despite the misreporting on the subject, President Obama accurately identified the biggest problem we face: it isn't Social Security. It's the rising cost of health care.
That affects the states' budgets in terms of Medicaid / S-CHIP. It affects the federal budget in terms of Medicare. (Yeah, THAT program needs a money infusion in a major way and will need so very soon if it's to continue serving the needs of its customers. Fold it and the VA into single-payer and you get about a quarter of the way there ... fold EVERYBODY in the country into single-payer and BINGO! -- but that's another post.)
But with all due respect to Senator John McCain, lately the Republican candidate for President and a genuine US Navy veteran whose experience as a POW has earned him some respect, if not affection or veneration, he may not have meant to give the President the opening he did when invited to comment.
So up steps Senator McCain.
"I'm going to start with John McCain, because,...you know, he and I had some good debates about these issues," President Obama said in the final session of the Fiscal Responsibility Summit. "But -- and I mean what I say here -- I think John has also been extraordinarily consistent and sincere about these issues. And I want to see if you've -- John, you've got some thoughts about where we need to go and some priority areas. I know you were in procurement, for example, which is an area I know we would like to work on together with you."
Now give the man his due, he's always had a streak of something un-goose-step-Republican-like in his public statements. So, with that in mind, maybe what he said wasn't such a huge surprise -- even if the reaction he got surprised him.
After all, he's looking for something he can use to get an advantage for his party over the President. We've all heard that there's a new Marine One on order (or is it a whole bunch of 'em, so that bad guys won't be able to tell which one is real by looking when they're working?) and that, as happens with defense contracts, it's going to cost more than it was supposed to back when President George W. Bush (well, actually, I suspect it was VP Cheney, but what can I prove?) ordered it.
Nothing new there. Same-old same-old, spar between the representatives of the parties. But then President Obama said this:
Said the president's former Republican rival, "Well, thank you, Mr. President. And thank you for doing this...Just one area that I wanted to mention that I think consumed a lot of our conversation on procurement, it was the issue of cost overruns in the Defense Department. We all know how large the defense budget is."
And, McCain noted, "your helicopter is now going to cost as much as Air Force One. I don't think that there's any more graphic demonstration of how good ideas have -- have cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money."
Broke up the room; and, I admit, me.
"I've already talked to [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates about a thorough review of the helicopter situation. The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me. Of course, I've never had a helicopter before. So, you know, maybe -- maybe I've been deprived and I didn't know it. But I think it is an example of the procurement process gone amuck, and we're going to have to fix it."
EDIT: add video:
I actually liked this for several reasons. First, it plays well -- it's a sort of collegial approach to the automatic-adversary stance a President gets from members of the opposition party.
Second, it showed something about Obama as a person. I don't think it was disingenuity on his part to invite Senator McCain to ask the questions, but I can't help feeling a certain ... appreciation ... for the outcome.
It struck me that this is what bipartisanship should be. Maybe I'm naive.
But I like it.
On a sobering note, Steve Benen at Political Animal pointed out a way the President could, with a little savvy, use McCain's opening on this issue to help trim back the Defense budget and the 'customary' overruns in contracting, using Sam Stein's advice for doing so without appearing either weak on defense or to be undermining defense-related jobs and economic benefits. So, yeah, that could be a good thing too.