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Tilting at Windmills

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June 12, 2010

FRANK COMMISSION GIVES DEFICIT HAWKS A HAND.... It came together largely under the radar, but Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) helped create a task force on Pentagon spending, featuring a team of credible defense experts. They've reached some interesting conclusions.

A panel commissioned by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is recommending nearly $1 trillion in cuts to the Pentagon's budget during the next 10 years.

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, a commission of scholars from a broad ideological spectrum appointed by Frank, the House Financial Services Committee chairman, laid out actions the government could take that could save as much as $960 billion between 2011 and 2020.

Measures presented by the task force include making significant reductions to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which has strong support from Defense Secretary Robert Gates; delaying the procurement of a new midair refueling tanker the Air Force has identified as one of its top acquisition priorities; and reducing the Navy's fleet to 230 ships instead of the 313 eyed by the service.

Among the other possible cuts are savings from reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and reducing U.S. routine military presence in Europe and Asia.

Frank continues to present this approach in the context of priorities and choices -- policymakers could agree to these defense cuts without undermining our national security interests, or policymakers interested in reducing the deficit can raise taxes and cut already-short-changed domestic investments.

What's more, this need not be considered a partisan exercise. As The Hill noted, "Frank requested the creation of the task force in cooperation with Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)."

There's little reason for optimism on this front; far too many policymakers consider the Pentagon budget entirely off-limits, despite the fact that the United States now spends about as much on defense as every other country on the planet combined. For a Congress so concerned about deficits that it's willing to let unemployment benefits expire for struggling families, it's hardly outrageous to think some budget savings can be found in the enormous Pentagon budget.

That said, Frank's commission does offer alleged deficit hawks an opportunity to rise to the occasion. As Paul Waldman recently explained, "They're quite happy to borrow hundreds of billions to spend on defense, because they just happen to like spending money on defense.... You can't call yourself a 'deficit hawk' if the only programs you want to cut are the ones you don't like anyway."

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. Any chance conservative deficit hawks -- the ones who claim to be desperate to cut government spending -- will step up and agree?

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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It would be nice to see the commission's report first-hand. Beyond that it would be nice to see some comparison of our year to year outlays compared to other countries--especially our major competitors.

[Here is the link to the (.pdf) report. --Moderator]

Posted by: Fr33d0m on June 12, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

The multivalent aspect of the word "hawk" is missed by these good folks...

The Murikan gov't should not cut funds at all, ever, when it comes to killin' people and destroyin' stuff.

The fed budget can be cut everywhere all the time on stuff that helps people and builds up stuff...

That's a "deficit hawk"

Posted by: neill on June 12, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

I should have said about that comparison that I would be interested in seeing them alongside the commission's proposed spending levels

Posted by: Fr33d0m on June 12, 2010 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

We just paid for Health Care with the spare change in the Pentagon's couch.

Posted by: Jim7 on June 12, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Swords into plowshares.

Frank made an interesting remark ( thanks C-SPAN!). He said that weapons are single-use devices, while civilian products can be multi-taskers. (As in tank vs bulldozer)

-He also said, somewhat cryptically, that "you can hammer a screw, but you can't screw a nail. . ."

Posted by: DAY on June 12, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

to answer steve's question "not likely."

as someone smarter than me observed.."the pentagon is the only part of the government that congress gives more money to then they ask for..."

Posted by: dj spellchecka on June 12, 2010 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Yessss! Now we'll see how sincere those defict-hawk Rebaglicans and Rebabblecans really are. My guess is, once the lobby money and the flag-waving rubes (IOW, that don't know what they're doing, BTW) start pressuring them they'll cave and forget all about saving precious taxpayers' money.

Posted by: Neil B on June 12, 2010 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

We needed to spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined in the Bush years because if we had stayed on that path of national self-destruction trail-blazed by that great leader we would have had to fight the rest of the world in relatively short order. Now that we are on a different path...

Posted by: Regis on June 12, 2010 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Long ago (over 20 years, probably closer to 30), I saw a cartoon that showed an upper level military guy pointing to a diagram of a new proposed fighter plane, which was divided up into many little segments. He was telling the audience how parts of the plane were built "in every Congressional district in the country", which made the program unkillable by Congress.

Pentagon spending is pork for the constituents. As such, common sense, reason, and logic go out the window. So does the common good. To get the Pentagon (let's not give it more dignity than it deserves by calling it "defense") to cut its spending, it will take more than common sense, reason, and logic.

We need to start coming up with more compelling arguments, ones which will appeal to Congresspersons trying to keep their seats.


Posted by: Zandru on June 12, 2010 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

But, but, but, those gay and lesbian tolerant Dutch might invade us!
Seriously, cut it. But, it must be cut slowly - unfortunately. The Military Industrial Complex's most brilliant, and insidious, plan was in spreading each aspect of defense to every Congressional District, to make sure that EVERY Senator and Congressman had a stake in every military program.
To cut to quickly, as many of us would like, would be catastrophic to the economy of certain regions.
I like the idea of cutting $100 Billion every year. I'm just not sure how realistic it is every year right now, until the jobs situation improves. But, since we don't make anything in this country but ways to kill other people, I'm not sure how realistic any of this is...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on June 12, 2010 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Our belief in our superior ability to kill people is all that's keeping the idea of American exceptionalism alive, even for the most uninformed members of the electorate. Hence, defense spending can never be cut, or we're just like everybody else, which is intolerable.

Posted by: JMG on June 12, 2010 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

"They're quite happy to borrow hundreds of billions to spend on defense, because they just happen to like spending money on defense.... "

Is it really that simple? Or could it be you have to be a brave man like Rep. Jones to propose cuts in defense spending if your district includes a military base of some kind, a major defense plant of some, or include a large proportion of military retirees, veterans and active personnel and their families?

Unfortunately most Republicans outside of Jones, Paul or Duncan are not that brave.

This what happens when your party becomes a club for ex-Democrats.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on June 13, 2010 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

Really, at some point one hopes we will realize that via spending more than the rest of the world combined on the military, we are sufficiently capable to defend ourselves from any threat, and the rest of the world is sufficiently envious of our huge swinging phalluses that we can dispense with the endless buildup.

Alas, too many folks in power and those who support them maintain a dangerous inferiority/disrespect complex that is fed through wealth better spent on the people.

Posted by: terraformer on June 13, 2010 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, that makes a lot of sense to me dude.


Posted by: Jo Dean on June 13, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Whatever happened to the missing $3.4 trillion in Pentagon allocations that were admitted to by Donald Rumsfeld--$2.3 Trillion of which he reported missing to us on September 10, 2001 (CBS News)? Pentagon Comptroller and Rabbi Dov Zakheim's Department of Naval Intelligence accounting division was hit the next day by whatever blew up and killed half of the 65 accountants, budget analysts and auditors. What a coincidence! Rumsfeld said it (missing allocations) could be said to be a matter of life and death. How prophetic of Rumsfeld on the day before 9/11. The Pentagon won't miss $100 billion--they already squander far more than that we don't ever get an accounting for. It is time to Rediscover911.com

Posted by: Ed Kendrick on June 13, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK



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