• With: Bret Stephens, James Freeman, Kim Strassel


    GIGOT: Is he willing to deploy troops to help us fight Islamic State?

    STEPHENS: I don't think he's willing to deploy troops but he's prepared to create what essentially amounts to a pan Arab force to provide a trip wire against further Islamic State encroachments in the world.

    GIGOT: All right, Bret, thanks so much. Fascinating stuff.

    When we come back, Republicans in Congress release their budget outline for 2016 in what many see as a big test of their new majority. But will a split within the party over defense spending derail an agreement? We'll have our own debate next.


    GIGOT: Republicans in Congress rolled out their budget blueprint for 2016 this week in what many see as a big test of the GOP's ability to govern. But divisions within the party are already threatening to un-do any agreement as deficit cutters and defense hawks square off over how much money to give to the Pentagon.

    And we're back with foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens. And Wall Street Journal assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman, and noted fiscal hawk, also joins us.


    So, James, looks like the House is sticking to the outline, sticking to that -- to the caps on defense, which mean really flat spending, year over year, though, they have something called an overseas contingency operations fund that they'll fund. But is that smart strategy to stick to the caps?

    JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Well, it is, because the point is we need a have a good defense not just now but in the future. While the issue of our crushing debt has slipped off the headlines because the Federal Reserve has been creating all these artificially low rates, the fact is even the Congressional Budget Office says these debt payments will triple over the next decade. We have to get a handle on that. We have to have a vibrant economy if we're going to be a military superpower. And this is a step towards giving us that.

    GIGOT: So what do you think of that overseas contingency operations fund, which I think that's going to be $90 billion. That's not -- that's outside the caps. Essentially, it's kind of an emergency spending bill to fight ISIS and other defense operations. Is that kosher or would you off set that with other spending cuts?

    FREEMAN: Right, I think everybody who looks at this situation reasonably understands you want to find everyone in ISIS and shoot them, and this is a fund that allows them to do that. But basically, the problem with America's military right now is not its budget. It's the commander- in-chief. You look around the world, it's the same situation in Iran. This crazy deal is not happening because we're not spending enough on defense. It's because the president actually wants to allow some of the most dangerous people in the world to develop their nuclear program. So it's about maintaining that capability with our military going forward and having the economic ability to do so.

    GIGOT: Is it worth blowing up a budget accord to get more defense spending?

    STEPHENS: Yes.

    GIGOT: Why?

    STEPHENS: Because we have a dangerous world. I find it weird that people who describe themselves as fiscal hawks will keep the pretense of keeping the Pentagon budget within the Budget Control Act, but yet say, oh, we'll spend an additional close to --


    GIGOT: But that's crucial because the spending caps, if you break those, what happens is President Obama says, oh, you want more money for defense, I want dollar-for-dollar increase on anything on domestic spending.

    STEPHENS: Yes, I mean, look, I get -- I understand the politics of that. But one thing that's important to note is we are living in a world where the risks are proliferating in ways we haven't seen in decades. Europe is a major security concern for us in a way it hasn't been since the 1980s. The Middle East remains one. In fact, it's getting worse. We have an admiral telling us that China now has more attack submarines than the United States does. And it's simply wrong for James to say that the problem isn't the budget, it's the president. The problem is -- yes, the president is a problem, but we have historically low rates of defense spending, 3.4 percent or so of GDP.

    GIGOT: But his point -- what about his point that he's not going to spend it anyway for the next two years and, once President Obama is gone, you can increase spending.

    STEPHENS: Well, that's just not -- look, I mean, you do not build aircraft carriers in a couple of weeks. One of the problems that George W. Bush had when he became president and we found ourselves at war within nine months or 10 months of him coming to office is that he suffered from the very small defense budgets that Clinton had had during the 1990s. You know, you ask someone like Jack (ph), one of the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan is we couldn't deploy sufficient troops early enough.

    GIGOT: Former Army general, Jack (ph).

    Yeah, go ahead.

    FREEMAN: Yeah, the historically low rates are on our borrowing. And I think this is allowing people to not realize how the math is about crush us. OK? We're paying the same interest on the federal debt now as we did 20 years ago when the publicly held debt was less than a third of its current size. So once interest rates go back to normal -- and they will -- CBO is saying 10 years from now we'll be spending $800 billion, more than $800 billion just on interest payments on the debt. That's more than the entire defense budget even if you count the overseas stuff.

    STEPHENS: There's a famous British prime minister who said he'd rather take risks with defense than risks with finances. His name was Neville Chamberlain.


    GIGOT: Oh, pulling out the Neville Chamberlain card here. Come on. Are you going to pull out the Churchill card, too?


    So what about the fact that I hear from some defense hawks that they should -- that national security is a good potential issue for Republicans in 2016. And defense spending is part and parcel of that. You don't want to give that up as you go in -- Congress goes in to set up the issues for 2016.

    FREEMAN: I think they will make a mistake if they have that argument hinge on money. These are decisions about strategy and I don't think anyone really -- most people do not disagree with fighting ISIS. This is not something that requires us to wreck our finances and our economy for the long term.


    GIGOT: Briefly, Bret.

    STEPHENS: Look, I think that Republicans are going to be in a bad place next year if Hillary Clinton or whoever the Democratic candidate is going to be able to say I'm the hawk on national defense. These guys are -- have smaller numbers.

    GIGOT: All right, guys, we have to go. Thank you very much.

    The biggest mistake would be letting the budget fail. They need that budget so they can overcome Harry Reid in the Senate.

    Still ahead, Democrats in Congress are putting the squeeze on global warming skeptics, threatening academics and organizations that dare question their climate change agenda. Kim Strassel joins us with the details after the break.


    GIGOT: Are congressional Democrats trying to silence climate change skeptics? Last month, more than a hundred think tanks, trade associations and companies not towing the liberal line on global warming received letters from Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer, Ed Markey and Sheldon Whitehouse demanding information about their funding. This follows an inquiry by House Democrat Raul Grijalva into seven academics who have questioned President Obama's climate politics.

    Wall Street Journal "Potomac Watch" columnist, Kim Strassel, joins us with more.