Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 27, 2011

GOP STILL DIVIDED OVER PENTAGON CUTS.... Congressional Republicans insist that the deficit has reached a crisis stage, and threatens to destroy the American way of life. The problem, of course, is that they're proving to be a little picky about how to address the problem.

Democrats have presented a wide variety of policy ideas -- health care reform, cap and trade, the DREAM Act, Clinton-era tax rates for the wealthy -- each of which would reduce the deficit. To paraphrase Meatloaf, Republicans replied, "We would do anything for deficit reduction, but we don't do that."

Dems have also pointed to the massive Pentagon budget as an area of potential savings, but this is proving to be problematic for Republicans, too.

To hear the Republican leadership tell it, the once-sacred Pentagon budget, protected by the party for generations, is suddenly on the table. But a closer look shows that even as Speaker John A. Boehner and Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, insist on the need for military cuts, divisions have opened among Republicans about whether, and how much, to chop Pentagon spending that comes to more than a half trillion dollars a year. [...]

The discordant Republican voices on military spending have bred confusion on Capitol Hill, among military contractors and within the military itself, where no one is exactly sure what the members backed by the Tea Party will do. It also shows why taking on the military budget will be so hard, even though a widening deficit has led the president and the leaders of both parties to say this time they are serious.

For his part, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has already outlined significant budget savings, and has argued repeatedly that defense spending is unsustainable at current levels. Democrats agree, as do, oddly enough, Tea Party types in the GOP base. Dick Armey, of all people, told the NYT, "A lot of people say if you cut defense, you're demonstrating less than a full commitment to our nation's security, and that's baloney."

But the process isn't going well. Several leading Republican officials, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), insist that every penny of the Pentagon budget is sacrosanct, without exception, and argue that the Obama administration is too willing to cut spending (seriously). Newer GOP lawmakers with the backing of the Tea Party base support defense-related cuts, but aren't offering any specifics, because they don't know enough about the policy to point to details.

To my mind, this shouldn't even be controversial. Defense spending will top $700 billion in the next fiscal year. For Republicans to insist that we cut spending, but deliberately ignore the largest discretionary portion of the budget, is absurd.

The United States now spends about as much on defense as every other country on the planet combined. With this in mind, it's something of a litmus test: those who claim credibility on fiscal responsibility, but believe a bloated Pentagon budget is untouchable, shouldn't even be part of the conversation.

It's the first hurdle that has to be cleared for the rest of the fiscal discussion to even get underway.

Steve Benen 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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*Meat Loaf

Posted by: paul on January 27, 2011 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Now let's see - who has defense industries in their states? Who got payments from lobbyists for those industries?

Posted by: JS on January 27, 2011 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

There is a compromise of course: cut the fat in the Pentagon budget while leaving essential services untouched. But democrats aren't interested in common sense measures like that.

Posted by: Al on January 27, 2011 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

"It's the first hurdle that has to be cleared for the rest of the fiscal discussion to even get underway."

I wish Steve would blog a little more frequently and directly, when the opportunity arises, about the most significant driver of projected deficits--health care inflation.

Of course, there are two approaches we can take to address this issue: (1) do something about the rising cost of health care or (2) cut benefits to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. I vote for the former. The Affordable Care Act was a good beginning, but there's much more to do.

We should put Republicans on defensive about the deficit and debt by focusing the country's attention on health care inflation.

Posted by: Chris on January 27, 2011 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Question: where are the expenses for the Afghan and Iraq war accounted for nowadays? Are they still "off-budget" or are they in the annual DoD budget?

I assume they're large enough budget items to be broken out and discussed with the other "discretionary" accounts.

Posted by: ElegantFowl on January 27, 2011 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

I solved the problem this morning and didn't have to touch SS or Medicare. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/13/weekinreview/deficits-graphic.html

But then, I don't have anybody paying for my next campaign.

Posted by: SYSPROG on January 27, 2011 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

So how much can we cut defense spending and still be #1 in spending? Gotta be #1 don't we?

Posted by: reduced on January 27, 2011 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

As a starting point, why not let Gates read off the list of weapons programs the Pentagon doesn't want but Congress does?

Posted by: max on January 27, 2011 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

The MIC has sunk it's claws throughout the USA.

Every State wants a piece of the pie.

No one wants to stop making bombs or bullets, tanks, planes, ships, drones, spy satellites, etc.

Yet, it can be argued that defense spending isn't really a sustainable way to create jobs, unless we want to continue to arm and bomb the planet.

Our 700 bases around the planet are a very real drag on our domestic economy.

What we need is a thorough vetting of just HOW we spend 700 million dollars per year on this budget item.

Don't think for a minute that every defense penny spent is "good for America."

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 27, 2011 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

We need all those cold-war-era weapons! Not cops or teachers or roads, though.

Posted by: Meet Loaf on January 27, 2011 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Umm...that'd be 700 BILLION dollars, Tom. I know you knew that, but it looked shocking enough at 700 Million.

"...those who claim credibility on fiscal responsibility, but believe a bloated Pentagon budget is untouchable, shouldn't even be part of the conversation."

That'd be those who claim credibility on fiscal responsibility, but fantasize non-stop about using their Baaaadddd Military to force recaltricant nation-states into compliance with U.S. directives, and can't abide the notion of free will that isn't sanctioned by the U.S. of A. Good luck with that, because there are more of them than you think, and they aren't all slack-jawed trailer trash who should have to pass an IQ test before they're allowed to vote because they're too easily led. The urge to remake the world through military might runs deep: remember Madeline Albright? "What's the point of having this superb military, if you can't use it?"

Posted by: Mark on January 27, 2011 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Defense spending (including the secret agencies) is indeed the most important problem with our government. Anyone who doesn't understand that fact ought to read Yale historian Paul Kennedy's great study of the Rise and Fall of the Great Powers--in essence, the fall always comes as a direct result of excessive military expenditure. Silver-rich Spain, Louis XIV, Great Britain, etc. To demand continued extreme "defense" spending is tantamount to seeking the destruction of our country.

Posted by: Keith on January 27, 2011 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

The United States now spends about as much on defense as every other country on the planet combined.

Well, sure. In case they come for our goodies all at once, don't you know.

Now, where did I put that tin foil hat...?

Posted by: chi res on January 27, 2011 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

We could cut our military in half and still have the most powerful military in the world.

Miltary threats might still exist in the world, but the real competition is economic. The Chinese, Indians and even the Europeans are eating our lunch because they are not drowning is a see of cold war weapons systems.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 27, 2011 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

It's insane to be spending as much money as the rest of the world combined when there are no nation-states threatening us. The Founders were right to distrust a standing army, and Ike was right to warn about the MIC. The threat today comes from terrorists which are not effectively combated by the military. The whole defense system needs to be re-figured, with money directed where it will do the most good.

Pick a number, say 10. Add up the military budgets of the 10 countries that spend the most, and then we spend 50% more. IF/WHEN an attractive war comes along that we just can't pass up, add a war tax to pay for it.

Posted by: Seould on January 27, 2011 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

My thanks to Mark for catching my "M" when I meant "B"......

To wrap your heads around how entrenched our defense parasite has become, look at the B-1 bomber.
All 50 states produce components for this beast.

I would dare say that the parasite (the MIC) is slowly killing the host...US.


God help us.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 27, 2011 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

For all that, currently, the official name of the relevant dept is "Dept of Defense", it used to be "Dept of War". Most of what the country spends on Pentagon, is visible not here, but abroad. Since that's the case, could we relabel it as "foreign aid" spending and pare it to the bone, as everyone seems to want?

Posted by: exlibra on January 27, 2011 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

The republicans seem to like simple solutions. Let them sink their teeth in this.

Determine which states count as our enemies. Add up their military expenditures. Subtract the military expenditures of states that count as our friends. Spend enough on our military to make up twice the difference. If our friends are spending more than our enemies, then shut down the military.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on January 27, 2011 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

"The United States now spends about as much on defense as every other country on the planet combined. "

Well, telling the rest of the world to f$%& off comes with a price tag. And the Republicans would never give up on THIS policy...

Posted by: Vokoban on January 28, 2011 at 3:29 AM | PERMALINK



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