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Will Obama Tackle The Bloated Defense Budget In His Debt Reduction Plan?

For nearly the past two years, Republicans have argued that in order to bring down the debt and deficit, the Pentagon’s bloated budget must be part of the equation. “There’s a lot of waste in the Pentagon, no two ways about it,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said late last year. Yet Ryan’s budget he released last week — which he intended as a deficit reducing plan — slashes Medicare and Medicaid and cuts taxes for the rich, but merely pays lip service to defense cuts by largely ignoring DOD’s budget.

Yesterday on the Sunday shows, President Obama’s top adviser David Plouffe announced that the President this week will announce his broad plan for deficit reduction and provided some details:

PLOUFFE: We’re going to have to look at how we get more health care cost savings. We already have a trillion dollars in deficit reduction over the last — next 10 — two decades with the health care act. We’re going to have to look at defense spending. We’re going to have to look at more programs here. So it’s going to have to be a balanced approach.

Yet Plouffe didn’t expound upon what looking at defense spending means. In fact, Plouffe appeared on CNN, ABC, Fox, and NBC yesterday and barely mentioned reductions in the Pentagon’s budget. And if Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s recently proposed cuts in defense spending are any indication, Obama’s plan to rein in DOD funding will be token or minimal at best.

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Defense budget expert Winslow Wheeler recently said that simply getting the Pentagon’s books subject to an audit could be a good place to start:

Congress does not know how the Pentagon spends money, and the Pentagon does not know how the Pentagon spends its money,” said Winslow T. Wheeler, a military analyst at the Center for Defense Information who worked on national security issues for 31 years for members of the U.S. Senate. “It is not that DOD annually flunks audits, it is the fact that it can’t be audited.”

He added, “If you flunk an audit, you can track the money and find that it was not spent as intended. If you can’t be audited, you can’t track the money. In other words, it is literally true that it would be a vast improvement if DOD were to flunk an audit.”

And just today, the Swedish think tank SIPRI reported that U.S. military spending has nearly doubled since 2001 and represents 43 percent of the world’s total — with China representing the next highest at 7.3 percent. As CAP’s Larry Korb and Laura Conley noted, “[E]ven if the United States were to cut its [defense] spending in half it would still be spending more than its current and potential adversaries.”

But as the Business Insider noted last year reporting on the President’s deficit commission, “For a Democratic president or just about any mainstream politician, cutting defense spending has always been a politically impossible proposal.” It remains to be seen if President Obama is willing to take on the challenge.