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Posts Tagged ‘Defense Budget’

As a libertarian, I view defense spending with the same jaundiced eye that I apply to domestic spending.

  • I’ve pointed out that the U.S. represents a big share of global military outlays.
  • I’ve pointed out that sequestration wasn’t a threat to military preparedness.
  • I’ve pointed out that legacy defense commitments may be senseless nowadays.

And here’s a more-updated view of how much the United States spends on the military compared to other nations.

Call me crazy, but this chart indicates that the United States is probably spending too much on the Pentagon.

For what it’s worth, it’s possible that America’s lead is exaggerated because China and Russia get more bang for their buck on their military spending, but it’s also worth noting that the rest of the nations on the list are largely allied with the United States.

Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times writes there is too much spending on defense. But he undermines the credibility of his position with a deceptive comparison of domestic and defense outlays.

…the nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars that we are spending this year on a military that has become the epitome of governmental dysfunction, self-dealing and overspending. …does it make any sense to keep spending so many hundreds of billions on the Pentagon? …The Pentagon has never passed an audit… Congress is projected to spend about $8.5 trillion for the military over the next decade — about half a trillion more than is budgeted for all nonmilitary discretionary programs combined… You don’t have to be a pacifist to wonder if this imbalance between military and nonmilitary spending makes sense.

The problem with what he wrote is that he compares defense spending only to the portion of domestic spending that is considered “discretionary.”

And this leaves out all the entitlement programs – which are the biggest and fastest growing part of the federal budget.

So I went to section 8 of the Historical Tables of the Budget and put together this chart, based on inflation-adjusted dollars, showing total domestic spending (huge and growing), total defense spending (relatively flat), and interest payments on the national debt (relatively flat).

Next, let’s look at the data showing what share of the budget goes to different types of spending.

For this chart, I’ve separated domestic entitlements and domestic discretionary.

Once again, the obvious and unambiguous takeaway is that domestic spending is the problem in general, with entitlements being the problem in particular.

Now that we know that entitlement programs are America’s main fiscal challenge, let’s close with a couple of reminders that we also should take a knife to the Pentagon’s budget.

This headline for a story in USA Today.

This heading from a story in Stars & Stripes.

This headline from a story in the New York Times.

And if you want other examples of military waste, click here, here, and here.

But don’t forget that the big savings from defense budget can be achieved by reevaluating whether it makes sense to maintain alliances against enemies that no longer exist, along with reconsidering the wisdom of nation building.

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Last year, as part of the fight over the debt limit, Congress created a “super-committee” that was designed to produce at least $1.2 trillion of “deficit reduction.”

The statists saw this super-committee as a vehicle to seduce Republicans into a tax hike. They knew that some GOPers are perpetually gullible and would be susceptible to the siren song of a “balanced approach” – even though that inevitably means higher taxes and never-fulfilled promises of future spending restraint.

But they also had a back-up plan. They got Republicans to agree that there would be automatic spending cuts – known as sequestration – if the super-committee failed to produce an agreement. And they convinced GOPers that half of these automatic cuts would come from the defense budget, even though military spending is only about one-fourth of total federal spending.

The left figured that the threat of a military sequester would scare some pro-defense GOPers into supporting a tax hike. Maybe not as part of the super-committee deliberations, but perhaps as we got closer to January 1, 2013, which is when the sequester was scheduled to take effect.

Well, the super-committee thankfully didn’t reach an agreement because not enough Republicans were foolish enough to support a tax hike. But now the left’s back-up plan is being implemented. Senator Harry Reid, supported by the White House, is saying that the sequester will go into effect unless GOPers surrender to a tax hike. Here’s some of what the Associated Press reported.

President Barack Obama’s top Democratic ally in the Senate said Wednesday that he won’t block much-feared automatic spending cuts to the Pentagon and Medicare providers from taking effect unless Republicans show more flexibility on cutting the budget deficit. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that $110 billion in automatic cuts coming due in January were designed to force both Republicans and Democrats to bargain over a “balanced approach” — including tax increases… The automatic cuts, known as a sequester, are the result of the failure of a deficit “supercommittee” to reach agreement last year. “Republicans refused to be reasonable. They refused to raise even a penny of new revenue, or ask millionaires to contribute their fair share to help reduce our deficit and our debt,” Reid said. “It is their intransigence — their refusal to compromise — that leaves us facing the threat of the sequester, and its difficult but balanced cuts.” Republicans controlling the House are seeking to undo the automatic cuts by substituting cuts to domestic programs like food aid, Obama’s health care law and social services like Meals on Wheels. …The White House proposed lifting the automatic cuts in its February budget, which called for tax increases on wealthier people and closing numerous tax breaks enjoyed by corporations. Even as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned the sequester would lead to a “hollowed out” military, White House officials have taken a hard line against incremental efforts to switch off the cuts.

So we are facing a big game of chicken. Democrats are holding the defense budget hostage and telling Republicans they have to raise taxes.

GOPers should tell them to go jump in a lake. A defense sequester would not be the end of the world. Far from it.

All that being said, I’m very sympathetic to Republicans who are seeking to replace some of the defense savings by trimming the growth of domestic programs.

After all, national defense is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government. So even if the defense budget is bloated and the U.S. is wasting money on nation building, why not focus first on reducing and eliminating domestic programs that shouldn’t exist?

But even if you don’t care about the Constitution and enumerated powers, it certainly doesn’t seem right to make one-fourth of the budget swallow one-half of the savings. Why not make the sequester apply equally to all parts of the budget?

Those are good questions, but they’re not relevant in the hard-ball world of Washington politics. The real issue is what Republicans will do if (and when) Democrats don’t go along with the GOP plan. Will they then surrender to a tax hike?

That would be an unmitigated disaster. If the left knows that Republicans can be bullied into tax hikes by holding the defense budget hostage, then a tax hike today would simply be a down payment. Every time the statists want more money to feed a bloated welfare state, they’ll simply tell GOPers that the only alternative is “deep defense cuts.”

Republicans have a reputation for being the “stupid party.” I guess we’ll find out for sure if they allow themselves to get maneuvered into a tax hike. The first of many, by the way.

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There’s a big behind-the-scenes fight inside Republican circles about the military budget. GOP hawks are so concerned about the possibility of a sequester (automatic reductions in projected spending) that some of them are willing to capitulate to a tax hike.

Others are pursuing a more productive approach, as explained in this story. They want to cancel the defense sequester and replace the savings by restraining pay levels for federal bureaucrats.

This is an excellent idea since domestic programs are overwhelmingly to blame for America’s fiscal problems, and those programs employ hundreds of thousands of unnecessary and over-compensated bureaucrats.

Regardless of how that effort plays out, though, George Will explains in a new column that Republicans hawks can ease up on the overheated rhetoric. Simply stated, there is no risk to America’s military supremacy.

The U.S. defense budget is about 43 percent of the world’s total military spending — more than the combined defense spending of the next 17 nations, many of which are U.S. allies. Are Republicans really going to warn voters that America will be imperiled if the defense budget is cut 8 percent from projections over the next decade? In 2017, defense spending would still be more than that of the next 10 countries combined. Do Republicans think it is premature to withdraw as many as 7,000 troops from Europe two decades after the Soviet Union’s death? About 73,000 will remain, most of them in prosperous, pacific, largely unarmed and utterly unthreatened Germany. Why do so many remain? …GOP critics say that Obama’s proposed defense cuts will limit America’s ability to engage in troop-intensive nation-building. Most Americans probably say: Good. …Osama bin Laden and many other “high-value targets” are dead, the drone war is being waged more vigorously than ever, and Guantanamo is still open, so Republicans can hardly say that Obama has implemented dramatic and dangerous discontinuities regarding counterterrorism. …even with his proposed cuts, the defense budget would increase at about the rate of inflation through the next decade.

The last point is similar to something I wrote last year. Even with a sequester, defense outlays will climb by about $100 billion over the next 10 years.

And I very much agree with Will’s point about defending Germany, which is part of the broader discussion of why NATO still exists about 20 years after the Warsaw Pact dissolved.

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