Defense spending and our budget crisis
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As the House of Representatives continues work on the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, it’s important to consider what’s at stake. For years, the government has spent far beyond its means, and even though the American public has recognized, and felt, the consequences of this dangerous trend, projections of government spending and borrowing haven’t contracted.
Just yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office released its long-term fiscal outlook warning that “such a path for federal borrowing would clearly be unsustainable.” Lawmakers and citizens alike agree that we must get the nation’s finances in order for any recovery to take hold.
For this to happen, everything must be on the table. And that includes defense spending. While we recognize this must be done with carefully, many recognize that we can rein in the Pentagon’s budget while maintaining a strong national defense.
Because defense spending often funnels jobs into certain districts, lawmakers generally agree that we need to control spending, but oppose cuts to particular projects. Last week the House Appropriations Committee approved a Fiscal Year 2012 defense spending bill which provides $649 billion for the Department of Defense. Though $8.1 billion below the President’s request, the bill increased funding for the M1A2 tank and radio communications beyond the Pentagons request, along with increases to the Defense Health Program, navy ships, and F-35 fighter jets.
As we’ve noted before, the United States spent an unrivaled 43 percent of the world’s defense expenditures last year. It takes the world’s other top 17 defense spenders to match the U.S. defense budget.
In an exit interview with The Daily Beast, outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates conceded that we’re facing unprecedented challenges:
I’ve spent my entire adult life with the United States as a superpower and one that had no compunction about spending what it took to sustain that position. And it didn’t have to look over its shoulder because our economy was so strong. This is a different time. And the country—and the leadership of the country, both Republicans and Democrats—face, I think, very tough choices.
The issue is gaining prominence in the discussion over how to control our debt and deficits. Today, the New America Foundation (NAF) held a meeting (watch here) with top experts from three influential think tanks, the Heritage Foundation, the Center for American Progress, and the Cato Institute. As NAF points out, the conversation crosses party lines:
While they may differ on the numbers, both the Obama administration and key members of Congress have acknowledged that Pentagon spending must be a part of any genuine deficit reduction plan.
It’s time to get serious about Washington’s spending addiction. This is a long-standing, entrenched problem, and as such, there are no simple solutions. But as everybody has recognized, our fiscal trajectory is unsustainable. We simply cannot continue to spend money we don’t have. And as defense spending has contributed to the problem, cuts to defense spending must be part of the solution.