With the country facing unsustainable long-term structural deficits in the coming years, more and more lawmakers have been willing to broach the once untouchable subject of cutting defense spending to save money. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said a few weeks ago that “any conversation about the deficit that leaves out defense spending is seriously flawed before it begins.” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) added that “there are billions of dollars of waste you can get out of the Pentagon, lots of procurement waste. We’re buying some weapons systems I would argue you don’t need anymore.”
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) tried to sing the right notes yesterday, saying with regard to defense spending that “there are savings everywhere. We should be looking, as a Congress, toward finding savings.” However, Isakson that bristled at the notion that a program the Pentagon has repeatedly said it doesn’t want should be cut:
One expenditure, the second engine for the F-35 program, did receive Isakson’s support. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has recommended President Obama veto any defense spending bill that includes funding of the second engine. “The second engine makes sense from a standpoint of having a redundant system to protect the aircraft,” he said.
Isakson is hardly alone in paying lip service to cutting defense spending while opposing actual cuts in weapons systems that no one wants. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) has said “if we are going to put our fiscal house in order, everything has to be on the table. We have to be willing to look at domestic spending, we have to be able to look at entitlements, and we have to look at defense.” But Pence also supports the second engine.
And then there is conservative darling Sarah Palin, who said in a speech last month that “no government agency should be immune from budget scrutiny,” but then proceeded to say that we absolutely must purchase all the weapons Gates says we don’t need. “[Gates] said we have to ask whether the nation can really afford a Navy that relies on $3 [billion] to $6 billion destroyers, $7 billion submarines and $11 billion carriers,” Palin said. “Well, my answer is pretty simple: Yes, we can and yes, we do.”
In the last 10 years, the defense budget has almost doubled to $549 billion, and 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.” As Ryan has said, “you know the current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, he’s going a pretty good job of identifying obsolete weapons systems that are costing tens of billions of dollars that aren’t needed.” Now if only he could get Congress to go along.