Tag: deficit reduction

The Pentagon’s Faux Cuts

President Obama might want it to appear as though he is reining in defense spending with his budget submission for FY 2012, but his approach to the Pentagon’s budget reveals the opposite.

Perhaps the president hopes that his adoption of the faux cuts that Secretary Gates put on the table last month will be seen as responsible. Perhaps he is taking a prudent first step and signaling to the military, and its suppliers and contractors, that the days of double-digit increases are over. That may be; but far deeper cuts are warranted. . If the president had truly wanted to send a signal, he would have followed the advice of his own deficit reduction commission and endorsed far deeper cuts in military spending.

The Department of Defense will spend $78 billion less over the next five years than previous projections. This amounts to a drop in the bucket – technically just over 2% – of total Pentagon spending over that period. Nonetheless, in Washington-ese, this constitutes a cut. But the base budget (excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) will increase – from $549 billion to $553 billion, the largest budget in the department’s history. In the past 12 years, the budget that has doubled in real, inflation-adjusted terms.

Deeper cuts should be made along with an effort to lessen worldwide defense commitments, reducing the strain on the force. It will be up to outside pressure – either from Congress or from interested groups outside of government – to force Washington to cease acting as the world’s policeman, and forcing other countries to take responsibility for their own defense.

Budget Follies

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Is the Obama budget a serious stab at deficit reduction? And do congressional Republicans have any credibility in knocking the budget plan since, other than Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), they have not detailed many cuts that would seriously slice the deficit?

My response:

It’s Valentine’s Day and love is in the air, especially on Capitol Hill where Congress anxiously awaits the 10:00 a.m. arrival of the president’s FY 2012 budget. It should be well shredded by noon.

And as it is, across the land we’ll be hearing the cries of “Not me, please, not my sinecure” – no more plaintively than from the minions of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. How will the average Chicago Bears fan endure without the latest BBC soap – excuse me, Masterpiece Theatre production?

But if that should come to pass, woe be unto those CPB congressional supporters who survived the November shellacking, the very ones who brought us to this sorry state by failing, for the first time in our history, to pass a single spending bill. Hell hath no fury like that of an NPR patron scorned.

Tea Party Isn’t Mellowing GOP Militarism

Lindsay Graham isn’t alone when he imagines an emerging “isolationist wing” of the Republican Congress. Pundits have lately both lamented and celebrated the arrival of a Tea Party foreign policy, where deficit fears restrain military adventures and Pentagon spending.

I wish there were such a thing. My op-ed in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer shows that there isn’t.  I report there on research that I did (really research that intern Matt Fay did) on support among Republicans in the House and Senate for cutting defense spending and getting out of Afghanistan. I found little.

I also tested the idea that the Tea Party is restraining Republican militarism, by comparing the 101 freshmen that largely claim adherence to that movement to other Republican members. Freshmen are not more dovish than the rest, suggesting that the Tea Party reflects Republican politics more than it guides it. A post I put up yesterday on the National Interest’s Skeptics blog illustrates this point with charts.

As Tad DeHaven notes, Congressional Republicans, including leaders in both Houses, have increasingly said that they would support defense cuts as part of a deficit reduction package. But those taking that position remain a minority of their party–fifteen percent by a generous accounting, comprising roughly equal fractions of new and old members. And the cuts that the minority of Republican want are likely to be cosmetic, trimming fat and chasing efficiencies, not taming the beast by taking on less missions and cutting force structure. For these reasons, it’s not surprising that the symbolic spending cut resolution up for a House vote Tuesday exempts the nearly two-thirds of domestic spending labeled as “security,” as I discussed in another Skeptics post.

GOP support for indefinite war in Afghanistan is stronger. Only ten Congressional Republicans are obviously against that war, and not one is a Senator or a freshman. That last bit bears repeating: none of the 101 new Republican members of the House and Senate are clearly against the war in Afghanistan.

The difference between new and old Republicans on these issues is that the new members are less likely to have firm positions. They got elected largely without expressing coherent views on defense issues. Since then, many seem to be reading the tea-leaves and keeping quiet about those matters.  But they will soon be tied into positions as they justify votes. So the coming months are crucial in determining how a big chunk of Republicans vote for some time.

I am not optimistic that many will side with those of us that would like to vastly scale back our foreign policy. In the Skeptics post I explain why:

The GOP has been in the habit, probably since the 1970s, of out-hawking the Democrats and equating military aggressiveness with support for the military and American virtue. Whether that is winning political strategy I’m not sure (yes in 2004, no in 2008), but it is at least a powerful habit, reinforced by decades of neoconservative warbling, whose authors are now ensconced in the nation’s most prominent op-ed pages and think tanks.

Beyond that, military spending bestows its munificence in many districts, generating bipartisan support. But, on the left, the prospect of spending caps creates countervailing interests. Caps force defenders of other domestic spending to be dovish on defense. Health care’s cost competes with the Navy’s, especially under budget caps. That’s not as issue on the right.

The most important force keeping Republican fond of military adventure, however, is common to Democrats: international opportunity. We have expansive foreign policies because we can. Balancing is weak. The costs of adventurism are few and diffuse. For Europeans alive 100 years ago, foreign policy failures could bring conquest and mass death. Even successful wars would kill many sons and consume a considerable portion of societal wealth. For most Americans, especially since the draft ended, foreign policy disasters bring marginally higher tax rates. Ideologies justifying expansive policies—liberal internationalism on the left, neoconservatism on the right—grow popular because they justify the behavior this structure allows.

Doves say that the United States cannot afford its foreign policy. The problem is that it can, even when recessions make the load a bit harder to bear. Unsustainable things end. The United States can afford to do all sorts of foolish things.

Will the Deficit Compel Congress to Cut Military Spending?

Over at National Journal’s National Security Experts blog, Megan Scully notes the military spending cuts contained within a proposal by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairs of the president’s deficit reduction commission. Scully asks: “How feasible would it be for lawmakers to make these kinds of cuts to defense?…What kind of sway will fiscal hawks have in the next Congress - and will it be enough to push through sweeping defense cuts over the objections from pro-defense members of their party?”

Government spending across the board must be cut, I explain, beginning especially with entitlements.  I continue:

Other spending must also be on the table, however, and that includes the roughly 23 percent of the federal budget that goes to the military. This often poses a particular challenge for Republicans given their traditional support for military spending and their professed commitment to fiscal discipline. But it need not be particularly difficult. If Republicans reaffirm that the core function of government, many would say one of the only core functions of government, is defense (strictly speaking), then the path to a politically sustainable and economically sound defense posture is clear: a military geared to defending the United States and its vital national interests, and not permanently deployed as the world’s policeman and armed social worker. Such a posture would allow for a smaller Army and Marine Corps as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are drawn to a close (as they should be), deep cuts in the Pentagon’s civilian work force, which has grown dramatically over the past 10 years, and sensible reductions in the nuclear arsenal. More modest cuts are warranted in intelligence and R&D. Finally, significant changes in a number of costly and unnecessary weapons and platforms, including terminating the V-22 Osprey and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and greater scrutiny of the F-35 program, for example, must also be in the mix….

Serious cuts to military spending… must be part of a broader strategic reset that ends the free-riding of wealthy and stable allies around the world, and that takes a more balanced and objective view of our relative strategic advantages and our enviable security.

 You can read the rest of my response here.

The Deficit Commission: A Good Try That Falls Short

My colleagues, Dan Mitchell, Jagadeesh Gokhale, Michael Cannon and Chris Edwards have already provided their thoughts on the chairman’s mark released yesterday by the bipartisan deficit reduction commission.  A few additional thoughts:

The commission provides a good-faith look at the magnitude of the problem we face, and the magnitude of cuts necessary to bring spending down to even 21 percent of GDP (and it really should be far lower).  In doing so they show just how unserious Republicans are in proposing a paltry $100 billion in spending cuts.  And the commission makes it clear, unlike Republicans, that both entitlements and defense spending must be on the table.

The commission also starts the debate in a useful direction by implicitly acknowledging that their need to be some limits to government spending—that government cannot consume an ever-increasing proportion of GDP.  (Without a change in policy, the federal government will consume 43 percent of GDP by 2050.)

But ultimately the report falls short because it fails to address the proper role of government.  In fact, it tacitly accepts the idea that government should be doing everything it is doing now.  It even acquiesces to the new health care law.  As a result, it fails to reduce the size of government sufficiently to avoid tax hikes, let alone permit tax cuts in the future.

Moreover, because the commission leaves the basic structure and role of government intact, it raises questions about the future viability of its proposed mix of spending cuts and tax increases.  History demonstrates that it is far too likely that tax hikes will be permanent, while spending cuts will last as long as the next year-end emergency appropriations bill.

As the commission moves toward a final report on December 1, members would be advised not to focus just on the details of these proposals, but to have a serious and deliberative discussion of what the federal government should and should not be doing.

What Is a ‘Strong’ Defense?

The good people at the Stimson Center’s Budget Insight blog invited me to contribute a guest post discussing the Sustainable Defense Task Force report  Debt, Deficits, & Defense: A Way Forward. Here’s an excerpt:

The most common response [to the report] has been some sympathy for our argument that military spending should be subjected to the same scrutiny that should be applied to other government spending. There are still a fair number of people, however, who share our concern about the deficit, but who counter “But I want a strong defense.”

Who doesn’t?

The task force report was written with a single consideration in mind: in what ways, and where, could we make cuts in military spending that would not undermine U.S. security?

[…]

A leading conservative in the Senate, Tom Coburn (R-OK) wrote that the deficit reduction commission “affords us an opportunity to start some very late due diligence on national defense spending… [as well as] reduce wasteful, unnecessary, and duplicative defense spending that does nothing to make our nation safe.”

Read the rest here.

How to Cut Military Spending

Several months ago, I co-authored an op-ed in Politico with Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network calling on the White House and Congress to include the Pentagon’s budget in any deficit reduction package.

because our national security rests on our economic health as well as on the strength of our military, a liberal and a libertarian can agree that the Pentagon should no longer get a pass.

That op-ed caught the attention of Congressman Barney Frank. He formed the Sustainable Defense Task Force, an ad hoc advisory panel to assemble a list of possible reductions in military spending that would not undermine essential U.S. security.

Last Friday, the task force presented its findings at a press conference at the Capitol. You can read the full report here [.pdf].

Ben Friedman and I collaborated on the portion of the report that makes the case for a new grand strategy of restraint that would allow for substantial cuts in military spending. Our op-ed in this morning’s Los Angeles Times focuses on one key theme: we spend too much because the U.S. military does too much.

A few excerpts:

The Cold War is over. While we were defending our allies in Europe and Asia, they got wealthy. The new status quo is that we offer them perpetual security subsidies — and risk being drawn into wars that do not serve our security interests.

[…]

By avoiding the occupation of failing states and shedding commitments to defend healthy ones, we could plan for far fewer wars, allowing cuts in force structure, manpower, procurement spending and operational costs. The resulting force would be more elite, less strained and far less expensive.

[…]

Our deficit problem is an opportunity to surrender the pretension that we are the world’s indispensable nation, preventing instability, shaping the international system and guiding history. We should be content to settle for being the big kid on the block that looks out for itself and occasionally helps friends in a bad spot. That approach would take advantage of the security we have, and save money we don’t.

As Cong. Frank explained at the press conference, if cutting defense was easy, we would have done it by now. Defense is a core function of government – any government. That might explain why conservatives, and even some libertarians, are more resistant to Pentagon spending cuts than they are to cuts at the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Education (etc.).

Yet much of what Washington does today isn’t defense, which means that the Pentagon’s budget shouldn’t escape scrutiny. The notion that we should close the budget deficit while leaving the military’s share off the table is untenable.

For one thing, it is a key driver of the enormous growth in government spending over the past decade; inflation-adjusted “national defense” outlays (including the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) have grown by 86 percent since 1998.

What’s more, the phrase “national defense” is a misnomer, at worse, misleading, at best. We should ask “Defend whose nation?” Most of what Americans spend on our military today is focused on defending other countries that should defend themselves. Once that reality sinks in – and I think it has already – it shouldn’t be that hard to focus the public’s attention on what we spend on our military, and what we get in return.

For the sake of our fiscal health as well as our physical security, we can and should make responsible reductions in military spending. By drawing down the size of our military, reducing our global footprint, and adopting a more restrained grand strategy, we can achieve a sustainable level of military spending that keeps America safe and strong for a very long time to come.