The House and Senate will go back in session on September 14th, and liberal lawmakers will almost immediately try to start a battle over next year’s defense budget. This is a significant development because the left has been silent about Pentagon spending for so long. During the 1970s and ’80s, cutting the Defense Department budget was a top liberal priority. It was a major theme in the presidential campaigns of Democratic nominees such as Senator George McGovern (1972), Walter Mondale (1984) and Gov. Michael Dukakis (1988).
This goal was achieved because of Bill Clinton’s “peace dividend” of the 1990’s which followed the end of the Cold War. However, the reductions in Pentagon and intelligence spending meant the United States was not prepared at the time of 9/11 attack. Both parties realized this and the left did not significantly challenge George W. Bush’s military modernization program of the past decade.
Now the old Pentagon budget battle is beginning again. Last year lawmakers were overwhelmingly supportive of the U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the outlook has changed significantly. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will not say Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan is worthwhile, and over 100 House Democrats and a handful of isolationist Republicans want the U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan reduced. They are also reading public opinion polls, and they know reduction of the nation’s $1.4 trillion deficit and restoring economic growth are top issues.
The liberal lawmakers claim they are deficit hawks and they are trying to prove this by taking aim at the 3.65% of GDP ($534 billion) which the Pentagon budget represents. Many of them neglect to mention that domestic and social welfare spending consumes 80% of GDP and it is on track to surpass 100%. There is no serious attempt to address entitlement reforms. In the current budget the Pentagon accounts for 14.44% of total outlays of $3.591 trillion, and it ranks fourth in government spending programs.
Liberal lawmakers are nevertheless trying to blame the Pentagon entirely for the nation’s debt and the budget deficit. A cursory glance at the budget demonstrates the problem is really due to the rapid growth of entitlement programs, which are over $2 trillion/year. Welfare spending is $888 billion, social security is $696 billion, and healthcare is $542 billion.
The House Progressive Caucus repeatedly claims Pentagon spending has doubled since 2001, when it was $297 billion. The claim is false even without adjusting the budget for inflation. The FY 2010 Pentagon budget is $534 billion, and adjusting for inflation that would be $737.64 billion. Over half of the Pentagon budget is consumed by personnel costs which have risen significantly since the draft was ended and the nation now relies on an all-volunteer military. The Obama administration is already planning to reduce spending to 3% of GDP which was the level of the last Clinton years, but it is well below what the Pentagon received the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush years.
Over $1 trillion in Pentagon cuts over the next decade are called for in a new report, “Debt, Deficits and Defense: A Way Forward.” The authors are Congressmen Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX), and the spending cuts they recommended are being incorporated into legislation. They want reductions of $100 billion/year, and their goal is to have defense spending at the 2.5% level of GDP. They have also established a Sustainable Defense Task Force of left wing and libertarian budget experts to justify these spending reductions. They are recommending a meat ax approach to the budget and they are giving substantial credit to Paul Kawika Martin of Peace Action.
This proposal makes America vulnerable in an already difficult time. The libertarian perspective is to save money while securing our borders and increasing domestic defense. One problem is that this eliminates a major reason why we have allies. If we are not able or willing to continue our power projection role and to help in a crisis, then there is no reason to remain our allies and the system of collective security breaks down. Additionally, since the terrorists would not be concerned about a confrontation in their homeland they would bring the attack to the United States. We will be as vulnerable as any nation could ever be if Ron Paul and Barney Frank are successfull in this joint effort. They have forgotten that when America is isolationist, big wars happen, such as WW I and WW II. The liberals and the libertarians hate preemptive wars, but preempting despots who will threaten world security, has spared us from global conflict for nearly 65 years.
Members of the House Progressive Caucus are enthusiastically backing the Frank/Paul campaign and they are falsely claiming that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in agreement with them. This is definitely not true. What Gates has said is that because of the poor outlook for the economy, the Pentagon is planning budgets for the next decade that will be either flat or represent only 1% spending increases in real terms. Gates has been actively examining ways to reduce spending and overhead, and is planning to cut the number of flag officers. He canceled the F-22 fighter jet, the Army combat vehicle and missile defense systems, and there will be no new engine for the F-35 fighter jet.
He realizes resources are scare and at the same time new spending is needed to be prepared for “small wars” such as those being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, Gates wants these cost savings to be reinvested in other areas of the Pentagon budget. The Defense Secretary has already addressed the critics by noting:
Four times in the last century the United States has come to the end of a war, concluded that the nature of man and the world had changed for the better, and turned inward, unilaterally disarming and dismantling institutions important to our national security – in the process, giving ourselves a “peace” dividend. Four times we chose to forget history. Four times we have had to rebuild and rearm, at huge cost in blood and treasure. After September 11th, the United States re-armed and again strengthened our intelligence capabilities. It will be critically important to sustain those capabilities in the future – it will be critically important not to make the same mistake a fifth time. . . . My greatest worry is that we will do to the defense budget what we have done four times before. And that is, slash it in an effort to find some kind of a dividend to put the money someplace else. I think that would be disastrous in the world environment we see today and what we’re likely to see in the years to come.
Congressman Paul was the 1988 Libertarian Party presidential candidate and a major focus of his campaign was making huge cuts in the Pentagon budget. One journalist asked him if it was not possible to go further. To get rid of the Pentagon and all police forces? After all, police departments are a big drain on local spending. The journalist said we could just tell everyone to be good and that way there will be no need for the police. Zbigniew Mazurak in the American Thinker has made the following observations:
- America has never had a total military budget of “over $700 billion” or any similar figure. Not this fiscal year. Not ever. The claim that annual defense spending, or even total military spending, is “over $700 billion” is flat-out wrong.
- The Washington Post claims defense is the largest discretionary item in the federal budget, while the San Francisco Chronicle says it’s the largest single part of the entire federal budget. Both of these claims are demonstrably false. . . So not a single claim of the Washington Post and the Nation or other opponents of defense spending is true. Not one. The Congress should reject their claims and calls for defense spending cuts and tackle the real root cause of budget deficits.
- The Washington Post claims America is the “Globocop” and the Global War on Terror has cost the US $1 trillion by now. It has cited no source for that number — probably because it has no source to back it up. The CBO says the cost of the Iraqi war up to today has been $709 billion, over a period of eight fiscal years.