Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 1, 2010

THE DISCONNECT BETWEEN HAWKS AND DEFICIT HAWKS.... The price tag on the defense appropriations bill approved by the House last week was pretty stunning: $726 billion. It's far higher than the totals from the Bush/Cheney administration because, when Republicans were in charge, they played budget games and funded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan separately.

Given the enormous amount of money going to the Pentagon -- we now spend about as much on defense as every other country on the planet combined -- Paul Waldman raises a good question.

[W]here are all those "fiscal conservatives" who said that it just cost too darn much to extend unemployment benefits? That we have to live within our means, and stop borrowing money? That the government needs fiscal discipline? That the deficit is a time bomb that will obliterate us all?

Where were they? Nowhere. They're quite happy to borrow hundreds of billions to spend on defense, because they just happen to like spending money on defense. They don't find unemployment benefits, or health care, or any of a hundred other things we could spend money on to be particularly worthy, but instead of just saying so, they say, "Well, we'd love to, but we just can't afford it." You can't call yourself a "deficit hawk" if the only programs you want to cut are the ones you don't like anyway.

Well said. It's a reminder that when Republicans block domestic spending on areas like extended unemployment insurance, what we're seeing is a reflection of priorities -- the already-enormous Pentagon budget is important (even if it means funding programs the Defense Department doesn't want) and struggling families aren't.

It's also a reminder that Republican talk about fiscal responsibility is a shallow scam. Putting aside the fact that GOP interest in the issue is quite new -- these are, after all, the same Republican officials who added $5 trillion to the debt in just eight years -- it's also incredibly narrow. They want to reduce the deficit, but if you raise the prospect of tax increases, now that tax rates are at their lowest rates since the days of Harry Truman, they balk. They want to get spending under control, but if you even mention modest cuts to the breathtaking Pentagon budget, the GOP looks for a fainting couch.

Meanwhile, with European countries embracing austerity measures, what's on the chopping block? Their defense budgets, of course. Prominent conservative voices like to say that we should do what Greece and others in Europe are doing, and look to scale back dramatically, but they're apparently hoping we don't pay too close attention to the kind of measures getting cut.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said, publicly and repeatedly, that the United States can't keep spending such vast amounts of money on the military indefinitely.

If conservative deficit hawks are inclined to agree, now would be a good time to say so.

Update: Bruce Bartlett had some interesting analysis on this issue last week.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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What about those representatives who are overriding the Pentagon and pushing for programs that the military brass has tried to scrap?

Posted by: TR on June 1, 2010 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

What if we give the Army Corps of Engineers (and similar groups from other service branches) a mandate to fix local bridges, water systems, roads, etc., and direct a bunch of the defense budget to that?

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on June 1, 2010 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Look... it's like beating a dead horse, but Eisenhower had it right.

The MIC is never going to get cut in this country. It's way to entwined, it gives "back" way to much money to congresscritters, it has "jobs" in way too many districts, etc.

Posted by: edmund dantes on June 1, 2010 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

And as much as I hate this line of argument, it is abundantly clear it's true...

Dems are just as bad as Repubs when it comes to this. There are always tinkering around the edges based upon whether there is a D or R next to the name, but the Defense budget will never have anything to fear.

Posted by: edmund dantes on June 1, 2010 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

For Republicans, there is no expansion of government power or spending too great if it's primary effect is the social and political control of poor and/or brown people. Hence spending billions to provide some minimal level of health insurance to poor people is worse than Auschwitz, whereas spending billions of borrowed dollars to bomb huts in Afghanistan, surveil (Arab American) citizens, or support a high tech militarized border with Mexico is smart fiscal discipline. And when you combine that kind of spending with massive tax cuts for millionaires, it practically pays for itself!

Posted by: jonas on June 1, 2010 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Of course Ron Paul is one of the few Republicans to call for cuts in the defense budgets and an end to the wars that fuel its growth. But we can't give him credit for that can we? After all he's a (gasp!) libertarian!

Posted by: Sean Scallon on June 1, 2010 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Paul Waldman's question can be answered very easily! - Where are all those "fiscal conservatives?" Answer: Shilling for the military-industrial complex! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on June 1, 2010 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Here is another perverse effect of economic anxiety. The defense budget plays to generalized anxiety - hence the need for even more ridiculous amounts to combat imaginary super-enemies.

You won't win this battle either politically or psychologically. But you can remind citizens that all societies make trade-offs. Ours demands absolute existential security for xenophobes and paranoiacs, and minimal security for ordinary human beings.

Aside from that, this is stimulus spending for certain industries and states. It waves the bloody flag, so you can't question it. Otherwise, you hate America.

Posted by: walt on June 1, 2010 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, you really have to wonder at the priorities of the "pro-life" party that prefers spending money on weapons to kill people to spending it on health care or other programs which improve quality of life.

That's quite the system they have though. Force women to bear children who will grow up to be cannon fodder.

Posted by: karen marie on June 1, 2010 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Of course Ron Paul is one of the few Republicans to call for cuts in the defense budgets and an end to the wars that fuel its growth. But we can't give him credit for that can we? After all he's a (gasp!) libertarian!

What the fuck does that mean anyway? One can agree with a small part of a guy's platform -- Pat Buchanan, after all, is against most of this shit too -- without thinking he's a good guy or a good candidate.

Paul's right on the war! Feel better?

He's also a psychotic asshole when it comes to helping people who have less by solely promoting those who already have more. He does this in the name of freedom.

Fuck him.

Posted by: Jay B. on June 1, 2010 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

I have to laugh when the same Republicans who claim that the government doesn't create jobs turn around and whine about all the jobs that will be lost in their states if we don't continue to funnel trillions to the MIC.
Isn't the MIC the biggest too big to fail vampire squid of them all?

Posted by: Allan Snyder on June 1, 2010 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Edmund, don't hate it; it's very true. Now, if you could just get "Party Line Steve" to talk about the bipartisan backing for defense big bucks.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on June 1, 2010 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Umm, yeah...

That's *one* angle to the issue of the size of the defense budget! Another would be to question why a Dem president and an overwhelmingly Dem Congress pass a budget with an OBSCENE amount of spending on killing machines and their operators.

Maybe this is the wrong place for that.

"Yeah us! Boo them! They're hypocrites, we're marginally less so!"

Posted by: flubber on June 1, 2010 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

As I recall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, in part and in conjunction with Reagan's Mighty Roar, was brought about by military spending that far outstripped resources for anything else until the entire system collapsed. But that was because they were Communists. The same thing could never happen here.

Posted by: Perspecticus on June 1, 2010 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Santayana: Those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

What deficit hawks and many others have not learned is that most empires (Roman, Russian, British) have fallen not from lack of military might, but rather from economic collapse.

Posted by: gdb on June 1, 2010 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Much of the talk about the federal debt is wild and misleading. Even Steve pulls incorrect numbers out of his ???. Much, if not most of the talk about federal debt is because the rethugs and corporate dems want to screw the workers of our country AGAIN.

A little straight talk:
- When Bush Lite took office, the federal debt limit was $5.950 Trillion.
- When Bush Lite left office, the federal debt limit was $12.104 Trillion.
- The amount of debt accumulated under the Cheney/Bush administration was closer (or more than) $6 Trillion, not $5 Trillion, but what the hell it's only a Trillion Dollars.
- At the end of July 2009, the total amount of federal debt held by the public (persons, countries, et.al.) was $7.34 Trillion.
- At the end of July 2009, the total amount of intergovernmental debt was $4.33 Trillion. This is largely bonds issues for Social Security and Medicare 'overcollections'.
- Of the intergovernmental debt, the politicians issued bonds because (outside of a few years when Billy Bob Clinton was president) they spent the money that was collected to assure long term solvency of social security.
- Since 1984, working people have been massively overpaying into the social security trust fund so that the trust fund now has more than $2.5 Trillion of intergovernmental bonds.
- In 1984, Ronnie Raygun and Mr. Andrea Mitchell assured workers that their tax increases and increases in retirement ages would keep social security solvent forever.
- Social Security is 'solvent' for about the next 75 years; unless you want to declare those bonds as meaningless and worthless! But then again, the rethugs never intended to 'redeem' those bonds.

As always, the goal of rethugnicans appears to be to declare the overpayments of workers as null and void. As always, the goal of rethugnicans appears to be to increase taxation on workers and reduce taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

A short answer to how to make social security solvent 'forever' is NOT to raise the tax rate on workers and NOT to raise retirement ages for workers, but to ELIMINATE the statuatory cap on incomes for which the taxes are collected. We know that is off limits because the rethugs and the corporate dumbocraps will not agree to raising taxes on those who can afford them.

Medicare and Medicaid are separate issues that have answers in REAL HEALTH CARE REFORM (single payer) which will lower health care costs. Of course, the rethug answer will be higher taxes and less services for the poor and for workers. Just another issue where The Obomination has let down the American Sheeple.

Posted by: SadOldVet on June 1, 2010 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Obama said that he would not continue the BushCo proclivity of passing 'emergency war supplementals' and would instead put defense spending within the regular budget process.

Guess not. Oh well.

(And how can it be an 'emergency' now reaching 10 years? It's not like they looked up and said, "damn, we just realized we're out of money for the war we started 8 years ago.")

Posted by: terraformer on June 1, 2010 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK
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