The Pentagon’s budget is now about $520 billion — over $700 billion if you count the wars; more than 20 percent of federal spending and more than the rest of discretionary spending combined. Not including war costs, inflation‐adjusted defense spending has grown by about 43 percent since 2000.
There is little reason to think that this explosion of new spending has made us safer. Most of the increases have gone to conventional forces, like fighter aircraft and warships, designed to fight conventional militaries — not insurgents and terrorists we combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet neither candidate has offered feasible plans to rein in runaway defense costs. Like the Democratic Congress, Obama apparently believes that backing defense cuts during war is a political loser. He also endorses President Bush’s ongoing effort to expand our overall ground forces by ninety‐two thousand soldiers and marines, an odd stance for a candidate promising to end the Iraq War. Once that commitment ends, the need for new troops will disappear — unless one plans on having more wars like it.
McCain calls himself a fiscal hawk, but when it comes to defense spending, at least, he is no such thing. His plans to limit military spending are vastly outweighed by other proposals that would increase it. Take, for instance, McCain’s call to get rid of earmarks and cost‐plus contracts.
Earmarks are projects attached to spending bills by legislators that the agency being funded did not request. If McCain could get rid of earmarks — which is doubtful since they are a result of Congressional power — he would save the taxpayers little. In 2008, defense earmarks totaled about $8 billion, less than what we spend in Iraq in a month.
Eliminating cost‐plus contracts would not generate any savings either. In a cost‐plus contract, the contractor gets paid whatever it costs to make their good, plus a profit. McCain claims that these agreements encourage contractors to spend as much possible and send the government the bill. This argument is confused. Defense contractors have essentially one customer: the Pentagon. Repeatedly gouging your only customer, one with a small army of auditors, is likely to lead to bankruptcy.