Washington is in Need of Surgical Intervention

March 15, 2012

If you believe the national debt and the federal budget deficit are urgent priorities, a Congressional budget hearing on February 28 offered insight into why it’s so difficult to restrain government spending.

Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta attempted to fend off reductions in spending at the Department of Defense, told Congress that the budget couldn’t be balanced with defense cuts alone. He said further cuts to his department would “hollow out the force and inflict severe damage to our national defense.”

One might be skeptical of Panetta’s claims that further savings in defense spending are impossible; the realities of waste and fraud in the defense procurement process are well documented. But on an essential point, Panetta is right: if we’re going to get our national spending problem under control, it’s going to take a much broader approach to budget reform that requires putting everything on the table.

Considering that our nation currently holds a national debt of nearly $15.5 trillion, and that the federal budget deficit for this year is projected at $1.08 trillion by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, it is clear we have a significant spending problem that needs to be tackled sooner rather than later.

In his February budget testimony, Panetta implied that further reductions to the defense budget would amount to taking a “meat ax” to our defense capabilities. The metaphor is intended to suggest that the cutting is indiscriminate (although if you’ve ever watched a butcher at work, you know how skillfully he can wield his tools to cut out the fat and unnecessary tissues to leave the best cut of lean meat, which would be a worthy goal).

Perhaps more appropriate metaphor would be to consider that the federal budget right now is a sick patient, and a surgical intervention is needed to put him on the course toward a healthy future. But that’s going to require serious leadership on budget matters in Washington. Here’s hoping we get it.

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