The endgame is nigh. After stonewalling Republican demands on defense sequester all year, the White House finally has agreed to send its budget director and the Pentagon's top civilian deputy up to Capitol Hill.
But not until Aug. 1, opting to wait until the last possible moment before Washington heads out of town for recess, conventions, and campaigning. That date could mark the end of the GOP's and industry's control of the sequester narrative--that is, if Obama can flip the script on Republicans. The hearing has the potential to move officials off their rhetoric and make headlines.
Shoulder-to-shoulder, Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients and Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter will face a grilling before the House Armed Services Committee over why the administration is not doing more to plan for the $600 billion looming albatross of spending cuts.
Conservatives want to force the Pentagon to the table so that Congress can make their case for exactly how much lead time DOD really needs to meet the requirement. Then, conservatives hope they can demonstrate that Obama has prevented the Pentagon from doing what it does best: prepare.
But in handing over the microphone to Carter, one of the sharpest defense-budget voices in Washington and a man already on short parlor lists to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Republicans risk getting the tables turned on them.
Far from making the administration look blasé about national security, the hearing could end up exposing congressional GOP and Democratic Party leaders--who remain firmly entrenched--as deaf to the defense establishment's warnings from within their own parties.
The move could set up a whole new narrative heading into November's elections.