Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 24, 2010

PUTTING PENTAGON SPENDING ON THE TABLE.... As we've seen repeatedly, the Pentagon budget has been deemed entirely off-limits for too many policymakers, 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 at least some budget savings can be found in the enormous Pentagon budget.

This week has offered a little encouragement on this front. Center-right Democrats, who've historically joined Republicans in holding defense spending sacrosanct, are starting to signal flexibility on the issue.

Now that opposition is softening amid rising concern about the nation's fiscal future and the fact that defense makes up more than half the country's discretionary spending.

"We are going to have to adopt the philosophy that nothing can be off the table," said Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), one of the first members of the class of 2008 to be admitted into the Blue Dog Coalition. "And that is increasingly becoming the dominant view of the Blue Dogs."

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), a centrist who is the House's top defense appropriator, believes his panel can reduce the Pentagon's budget top line somewhat without affecting military readiness, according to Dicks's chief of staff, George Behan.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) delivered a widely-noticed speech this week on the budget to the Third Way think tank, which also raised the specter of defense cuts, and which came and went without significant outrage from any of the usual suspects.

Not all of the news on this front has been heartening. Blue Dog Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) said he wants to leave exorbitant Pentagon spending alone, and instead look for "cuts to social programs."

But there are nevertheless signs of progress. Idaho's Minnick, arguably the most conservative Democrat in Congress, said more Blue Dogs were coming around to the notion that defense could not be considered a "sacred cow" by default.

Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, conceded this week, "The Pentagon's budget itself is not working right, so there are billions of dollars of waste you can get out of the Pentagon, lots of procurement waste. We're buying some weapons systems I would argue you don't need anymore."

I'll believe it when I see it, but there are at least some indications that Pentagon spending will be on the table the next time policymakers are looking at the budget with scissors in their hands.

That would clearly be a step in the right direction -- 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 deficit hawks are going to be taken seriously, they'll eventually have to agree.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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The Democrats should offer a guns-for-butter bill that cuts defense spending by 10-20% (just back to the levels of 2006-7) and uses the savings to the states for education and health care.

Not only would that be enormously popular and difficult for Republicans to vote against, but also it would create millions of new jobs because defense spending creates 1/3 to 1/2 of the jobs of education and health care spending (see http://bit.ly/3PsEAG).

The War is Making You Poor Act (http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h5353/show) is similar in intent but has some undesirable features (unrealistically calling for ending the two wars immediately rather than ramping down, using the funds for tax cuts rather than the more stimulative spending on education and health care).

Congress should offer a bill that cuts defense spending by 10-20% and uses the funds for education and health care. Call it the I Would Rather Have Teachers than War Act.

Posted by: Greg on June 24, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Of course, the deficit hawks will only exist as long as the Democrats hold the White House.

Posted by: Old School on June 24, 2010 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Hey kids! Let's cut the Defense budget and use some of the savings to pay for the Tax-Extenders Bill. Then we can use the rest like Greg suggests above. And maybe to pay down some of the deficit or the debt.

We'd probably have enough left over to buy everybody a pony. (just an observation; not intended to shoot holes in your argument)

Old School: you're almost right: the deficit hawks will only exist as long as a Democrat (real, not Blue Dog), somewhere, breathes.

Posted by: Cap'n Chucky on June 24, 2010 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

A hint of sanity in DC?
Nah, can't be!
Just wait until the Military Industrial Complex's lobbyists start to turn the screw: "Congressman, you either vote FOR the military budget, or we'll cut the programs in YOUR district. Then, explain to your constituents why they're out of work due to you. It's a shame. I hope you enjoy your nice pension..."

Posted by: c u n d gulag on June 24, 2010 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

The shape of the Grand Compromise is clear -- for every dollar of Pentagon cuts, one dollar of entitlement cuts, one dollar of non-entitlement, non-defense discretionary cuts. No increase in non-defense spending, needless to say.

The poor must pay. If the Pentagon is cut, the poor must pay double.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on June 24, 2010 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Well, we have to start somewhere, and if they're at least beginning to recognize that we can't continue to engage in limitless "defense" spending, and somehow offset it with cuts to "social programs", then I say it's a good thing.
The same morons who constantly claim that the government doesn't create jobs scream to high heaven about all the jobs that will be lost if the government cuts a single useless military-related project.
And the same morons who scream about sending government money to ACORN because they committed some sort of fraud have no problem sending BILLIONS to companies like Lockheed Martin, which has been found guilty of fraud many times.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on June 24, 2010 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

This says it all. In 2003, 2.3 trillion was missing from the pentagon. All we have to do is put an end to their cover ups.



Posted by: David M on July 10, 2010 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know what the Taliban are spending on their military. But I've seen pictures of their warfighters...you know, those guys wearing street clothes and flip flop shoes, shouldering some world war II vintage rifle.
So I'm guessing they don't spend much.
Needless to say they have no navy, no air force, no kevlar bullet proof vests, no night vision goggles, no predator drones, no armor plated tanks or deadly helicopters. They don't even wear helmets.

Yet here we are, a country that racked up a military budget of 4,000,000,000,000 dollars in the course of the Afghan War ...9 years after we invaded this poverty stricken 3rd world country.

Here we are.... still fighting, still dying, and still searching in vain for light at the end of the tunnel.

Like the Russians and British before them, we are learning a painful lesson. A big fat military with lots of expensive weapons doesn't necessarily win wars.

Posted by: norris hall on August 9, 2010 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK



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