Steve Benen writes the defense post that I've been considering for the last few days. He's asking, so where are those responsible Republican fiscal hawks who believe "smaller government is better government" when the defense budget comes up for discussions? Answer - they never really existed.
It's a reminder that when Republicans block domestic spending on areas like extended unemployment insurance, what we're seeing is a reflection of priorities -- the already-enormous Pentagon budget is important (even if it means funding programs the Defense Department doesn't want) and struggling families aren't.
It's also a reminder that Republican talk about fiscal responsibility is a shallow scam. Putting aside the fact that GOP interest in the issue is quite new -- these are, after all, the same Republican officials who added $5 trillion to the debt in just eight years -- it's also incredibly narrow. They want to reduce the deficit, but if you raise the prospect of tax increases, now that tax rates are at their lowest rates since the days of Harry Truman, they balk. They want to get spending under control, but if you even mention modest cuts to the breathtaking Pentagon budget, the GOP looks for a fainting couch.
Meanwhile, with European countries embracing austerity measures, what's on the chopping block? Their defense budgets, of course. Prominent conservative voices like to say that we should do what Greece and others in Europe are doing, and look to scale back dramatically, but they're apparently hoping we don't pay too close attention to the kind of measures getting cut.
Continuing the discussion in Bruce Bartlett's post, there's a good thread of comments making the point that cutting defense does not automatically equate to reducing national security interests. There's no question that we could cut back on acquisition projects, eliminate more bases, consolidate military logistics, medical and transportation functions, let the State Dept do nation-building and partner coalition efforts. There's no forcing mechanism right now, because Congress has no appetite suppressant. But we knew that.
And there is no doubt that the cold slap of reality is coming. Because Congress isn't interested in decreasing the costs of training and retaining military personnel, and it isn't interested in forcing acquisition reform measures on DOD either, we are rapidly approaching the point where Congress is going to have to choose whether it wants an adequately sized military force OR if it wants modern, state-of-the-art military gear. It can't have both without greatly increasing the already ridiculously overbloated defense budget, even as the current economic crisis continues. And when you see defense articles discussing how the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is now going to cost $382 billion to develop and procure, 65% higher than the original estimate in 2002, you really get the feeling that the military-industrial-political complex has lost all sense of reality. For comparative purposes, the one JSF program could fund the entire British military budget for seven years.
We're rapidly getting into a situation where the United States will have the most expensive fighting machine that cannot afford to take any losses, because it will have inadequate numbers of people to actually do the fighting. Then Skynet comes into the picture, the world blows up, and no one wants that to happen, right?
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