Defending Bloated Military Spending

Ryan Alexander
Foreign Policy in Focus / News Analysis
Published: Monday 24 October 2011
The Defense Department buys more than $1 billion of goods and services every day.
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The Association of the United States Army packed hundreds of exhibitors into two halls the size of football fields at its annual convention. Companies from around the world came to the event, recently held at the Washington Convention Center, to sell the Army everything from mammoth tanks to micro-thin wires. Corporations such as Raytheon and KBR erected multi-level installations nearly big enough to generate their own zip code, complete with conference rooms and coffee bars.

Had the political leaders tackling our budget mess visited this spectacle, they would have gotten a good lesson on federal spending. The Pentagon’s budget stands the risk of being subjected to a process known as “sequestration,” which would impose $600 billion in defense cuts over 10 years if Congress doesn’t approve a $1.2-trillion deficit-slashing plan that the panel of lawmakers known as the supercommittee will propose later this year. In his address to the convention, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called this plan a “doomsday mechanism.”

Later, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), who represents a district heavy with defense contractors, launched an initiative claiming that sequestration would “cause significant harm to United States interests.” He was echoing a report released last month by the Republican staff of the House Armed Services Committee that read like a list of campaign debate talking points. It was light on facts but replete with fear-mongering claims that reductions risked “increasing the threat of nuclear proliferation,” as well as our ability to “adequately defend allies.”

This all cleverly misses the point. Sequestration was meant to be the scary stick to get Congress to take its deficit-cutting medicine. What big military budget boosters are trying to do with this line of reasoning is to protect Pentagon spending in the supercommittee’s deliberations.

It’s no surprise that the Pentagon would scramble to protect its flank in these budget-cutting times, but the offensive from Panetta, some members of Congress, and industry titans is brazenly alarmist — and sometimes downright wrong. Panetta told Congress that sequestration would increase the country’s unemployment rate by 1 percent, despite the absence of any evidence.

Similarly, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney pledged in a speech to “reverse Obama’s massive defense cuts.” But under President Barack Obama, military spending has actually increased by billions of dollars.

Let’s review some more facts. First of all, the $450 billion in Pentagon cuts that the debt ceiling deal enacted would only lower the rate of increase in military spending, a rate that has gone through the roof in the last decade. In other words, it isn’t actually a “cut” at all. Even that so-called “doomsday mechanism” would only shrink the Pentagon’s budget back down to where it stood in 2007.

Second, with our country facing a $1.3-trillion deficit, everything must be on the table. Consequently, as the consumer of the largest piece of our discretionary budget pie, the Pentagon must be part of the budget-cutting plan. There’s certainly plenty of fat to cut. The Defense Department buys more than $1 billion of goods and services every day. It employs some three million people globally, more than the world’s largest corporation. Its headquarters, the Pentagon, is the world’s largest office building. If that doesn’t epitomize Big Government, what does?

Finally, the chances of sequestration coming to pass are slim to none, and Rep. Forbes and his allies know it. The supercommittee will produce a plan and the broader Congress is bound to adopt the recommendations or come up with some of its own.

This full-court press on behalf of Pentagon spending looks like an attempt to dissuade the supercommittee from making any military cuts at all, or to prepare for the battle soon to take place in Congress. Exploiting taxpayers’ anxieties about jobs and safety is a cynical way to avoid making tough decisions that will affect our security for decades to come.



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5 comments on "Defending Bloated Military Spending"

I don't get why so many right wing are so xebophobic and spend so much on defense.
If they were really interested in making government smaller that is where to cut, and studies show that the best return on the tax dollar expenditure is public works. If they were really conservative they would see getting the whole economy moving is very conservative in that its the least exposure to sector failure. I don't get why they don't get it.

jtxl

October 24, 2011 7:08pm

Of course the republicans are afraid of cutting any defense spending, it has been obvious that the defense spending is another way they are funneling money to their buddies. I think the biggest problem they have with our success in Libya, osama bin laden etc. has been that we did it the old fashioned way....with sneak attacks and spy's and now drones. The republicans consider our warriors as expendable casualties to hide all of the secret contracts with their friends. The republicans are shaking in their boots that bin laden and kadaffi were taken out without giving billions to halaburton. The republicans can't stand the idea that we really don't need to occupy a country to help them and by letting the Libyans handle their own destiny means that they will not be subservient to us and will have the ability to raise themselves up.

NHsolarguy

October 24, 2011 1:06pm

I think $600B over 10 years is generous... that's barely a 10% cut. There is no reason for us to be in any wars at this moment, and dropping it by half would be reasonable. That could easily keep minimum troops levels, pay for part-time national guard training, and keep new military hardware in development. Cutting 50% would be what, 4 or 5 trillion over 10 years?

Ronni85

October 24, 2011 12:35pm

Cut the defense budget by 25% NOW. By another 25% next year if our troops are out of Afghanistan then. Our defense budget will then be back where it was before 9-11.
Why do we still have troops in Korea? Japan? Germany? Do we NEED to have all these troops deployed all over the world? Some bases - strategically located, OK. All we have, NOT ok. How much money would that cut from the overinflated budget?
Unfortunately, the "supercommittee" is paid (well) to only cut programs that benefit "WE, the people.

Albert Kapustar

October 24, 2011 12:07pm

I can see cowardly conservatives wetting their pants if so much as $1 were cut from all the fat on the military budget.We spend more then the whole world on "defense".10 times more then our closest competitor China.We have the worlds largest spy network and CIA waiting to overthrow the world for our business corporations.Our founding fathers would have been horror stricken at what part of our budget goes to war.Unfortunately the super committee is loaded with conservatives so all that will be cut is anything that actually benefits real people