Appropriations Deal Leaves Defense Relatively Untouched

My colleague Ben Armbruster considers the proposition that advocates of reduced military spending should find plenty to like in the appropriations deal between Barack Obama and John Boehner and finds it wanting:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for at least $540 billion for FY2011 and this budget deal funds DOD “just north of $530 billion” a figure that includes military construction, which the AP seems to have left out. Thus, as Defense News noted yesterday, “defense spending is left relatively untouched” in this budget deal. Moreover, as the AP correctly noted, the overall baseline budget is an increase of $5 billion from last year. How would deficit and debt hawks find “plenty to like” in that?

The AP also ignores the lopsided nature of the deal’s DOD spending versus State Department and foreign aid cuts. The $8.4 billion cut to the foreign affairs budget represents a 14 percent reduction. If the budget deal subjected DOD to the same level, the Pentagon would have lost nearly $80 billion. And while the AP highlighted some of the military programs that would be scrapped — many of which came with strong bipartisan and Pentagon support — it largely ignored how reductions in foreign affairs spending will effect U.S. diplomacy.

CAP Sarah Margon has a piece on the impact of the diplomatic cuts.

What’s more to note the obvious, defense spending has a large event-driven element. Sometimes that’s like “Hitler invaded Poland, so we’re going to build a big military.” But other times it’s “we’ve got this giant military laying around, and Gaddafi’s about to kill a bunch of people in Benghazi, we should step in and do something.” In the latter sorts of cases, since the marginal cost is low relative to the average cost, it often seems to make sense to do more at the margin. But this should be understood as part of the economic cost of a national security strategy that amounts to maintaining a large quantity of military-related excess capacity. Not only does the capacity cost money, but the existence of the capacity encourages its use which costs even more money.