The chairmen of President Obama’s Deficit Reduction Commission released a report outlining their recommendations to reduce the budget deficit today. The report — which outlines billions of dollars in defense cuts, in addition to other cuts — is sure to spark a furious debate over what measures should be taken to reduce U.S. debt.
Former Bush Secretary of Defense made his recommendations for deficit reduction yesterday through his Twitter account, @RumsfeldOffice. He tweeted, “Tough fiscal choices ahead: Reforming entitlements should top the list – cutting the defense budget should not“:
The position that Rumsfeld is advocating for — reducing spending on “entitlements” like Medicare and Social Security while declaring military spending off-limits from waste trimming — is exactly the opposite of what polling shows the American people want. In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted just days before last week’s election, a plurality of voters said that their top priority for cuts in government spending was “national security.” Cuts in Social Security and Medicare were ranked second to last in popularity (cuts to education spending were least popular, with only 8 percent of Americans in favor).
Additionally, Rumsfeld is placing himself in opposition to a growing movement of both Tea Party-backed conservatives and progressives who are coming together to call for cuts in the defense budget. Numerous U.S. Senators, including several Tea Party-backed Republicans, have demanded that defense cuts be on the table:
— Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA): Isakson, who has been a featured speaker at Capitol Hill Tea Party rallies, told a local news station last month that deficit reduction “begins with the Department of Defense.”
— Sen.-elect Pat Toomey (R-PA): Toomey, who has in the past called the Tea Party a “very constructive movement for positive change,” criticized Congress for voting for “programs the Pentagon doesn’t even want” during a debate with Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA).
— Sen.-elect Mark Kirk (R-IL): The week before Toomey’s statement, Kirk, who has received backing from the tea party movement, said that we need “across-the-board” reductions in defense spending during a debate with his Democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias.
— Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN): Corker has gone out of his way to accrue Tea Party support. “We embraced the tea party spirit when it was in its infancy last August,” said Todd Womack, his chief of staff. Three weeks ago, Corker said on CNBC that defense cuts have to be “on the table” because there’s “a lot of waste there.”
— Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-KY): Tea Party “darling” told PBS’s Gwen Ifil during the campaign that that cutting defense spending “has to be on the table.” Paul reiterated his call for reducing the military budget this weekend while appearing on ABC’s This Week. He tweaked Republicans for “never” saying “they’ll cut anything out of military. … There’s still waste in the military budget. You have to make it smaller.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK): Tea Party-backed ultra-conservative Coburn used the op-ed pages of The Washington Examiner last weeks to praise Paul’s “courage” in calling for a smaller military budget and said he looks forward to “working with him” toward that goal. “Republicans should resist pressure to take all defense spending off the table. … Taking defense spending off the table is indefensible. We need to protect our nation, not the Pentagon’s sacred cows,” he concluded.
— Progressive Sens. Pat Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT): These four stalwart progressive senators joined with 55 members of Congress, including conservative Republican Reps. Ron Paul (TX) and Walter Jones (NC), to send a letter to the President’s Deficit Commission urging it to “subject military spending to the same rigorous scrutiny that non-military spending will receive. … We strongly believe that any deficit reduction package must contain significant cuts to the military budget.”
In opposing cuts to the defense budget and instead taking aim at entitlements, Rumsfeld is facing off with both the American people and a rising Tea Party-progressive coalition in the halls of Congress. While defenders of the status quo will likely pull out all the stops in order to defend a bloated defense budget that fails to properly serve America in the 21st century, this rising coalition has defense contractors worried. At a “closed door meeting” last month between Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn and Wall Street analysts, one senior defense industry executive said that he expects “real pressure” from Congress over defense spending. “The grim reality is that the midterm elections are going to have a significant impact in terms of accelerating the contraction in defense funding,” Jim McAleese, a Virginia-based defense consultant, told Reuters.