Recently, even though deficit hysteria has gripped lawmakers when it comes to sorely needed job creation efforts, the Congress has seen fit to approve spending on weapons systems that the Pentagon has said publicly that it doesn’t want. For instance, at the same time that it was jettisoning subsidies that help laid-off workers buy health insurance, the House of Representatives approved a second engine for the F-35 fighter that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called “costly and unnecessary.”
Deficit peacocks — who like to use the deficit to score political points but aren’t actually interested in reducing the deficit — treat defense spending as a sacred part of the budget that can’t touched. In fact, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) proposed legislation last week that would have slashed funding for federal agencies to ribbons, cut public sector pay, and potentially caused a two and a half month government shutdown, while leaving defense spending untouched.
Back in reality, there’s no way to reduce long-term structural deficits (not to be confused with short-term deficits, which are necessary to boost economic recovery) without looking at the Pentagon. In a speech today, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) rightly pointed out that talking about deficits without talking about the Pentagon is simply not possible:
Any conversation about the deficit that leaves out defense spending is seriously flawed before it begins…The savings in front of us deserve a careful look and a thorough debate; but I fear that if we can’t decide what we can afford to do without today, we’ll be forced to make much more draconian cuts in the years to come. Of course, we must conduct such a review with the intent of maintaining a strong and sufficient armed force to deter and defeat any enemy that puts our nation and our people at risk. We can do both.
As Alex Seitz-Wald wrote in the Progress Report, “in the last 10 years, the defense budget has nearly doubled to $549 billion, an increase of $252 billion…Although in real terms baseline defense spending is now higher than at the height of the Reagan buildup, and total defense spending now exceeds what we spent any time since World War II, the Obama administration projects continuing real increases in the baseline defense budget.”
It’s not like there aren’t plenty of weapons system that can go by the wayside without compromising military readiness. Gates has called for an end to the Airborne Laser (ABL) program, for instance, which is supposed to use 747s mounted with laser beams to shoot down missiles. “I don’t know anybody at the Department of Defense who thinks that this program should, or would, ever be operationally deployed,” Gates has said.
The Sustainable Defense Task Force has put together a whole host of steps that could be taken to reduce defense spending, including reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, pulling troops out of Europe and Asia, and canceling programs like the MV-22 Osprey and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, both of which are long delayed and aren’t useful. If you can’t acknowledge that significant savings can be found in the defense budget, which the Task Force’s report proves there are, then you aren’t serious about erasing the deficit.