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July 20, 2010

America's Unquenchable Defense Spending
Posted by Michael Cohen

With all the talk these days in Washington about the need to trim the deficit it seems one piece of the budgetary pie keeps getting ignored - the defense budget. A couple of weeks ago, the Sustainable Defense Task Force (which includes NSN head Heather Hurlburt and occasional DA blogger Will Harting) put out a new report that offers policymakers a helpful guide for wringing more savings out of the DoD budget. 

The report is linked to here and I've got a short piece over at AOL highlighting some of its conclusions as well as the need to look for defense dollars as a way to trim America's growing deficits:

The calls from Republicans and Democrats for belt-tightening rarely, if ever, seem to extend to the military. Deficit hawks in the House have even demanded that an amendment to the $37 billion Afghanistan spending bill that would allocate $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs next school year be paid for with offsetting spending cuts. No such demands have been made about war spending, which since 9/11 tops more than $1 trillion. When it comes to paying for America's wars, Washington's attitude has seemingly been, "Put it on the credit card ... preferably the Chinese one."
Yet, outside the nation's entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the defense budget is by far the biggest chunk of the nation's fiscal pie. Aside from money allocated for the Pentagon there is another more than $300 billion in additional outlays for costs like homeland security, military aid, veteran's benefits and military-related interest on the national debt. That's more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money -- or about $3 out of every $10 in tax revenue.
And while the defense budget has been growing for decades, since 9/11 the numbers have jumped significantly. In fact, 65 percent of the increase in discretionary spending has gone to the Department of Defense in the years since 2001. And the money is not just going to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nonwar defense spending makes up more than a third of the increase.
All of this is happening at a time when the U.S. faces no major foreign rival and al-Qaida, according to the nation's intelligence chiefs, has been reduced to a mere 400 to 500 key operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan alone, the U.S. is spending $100 billion and deploying 100,000 troops to face an enemy that has only about 50 to 100 operatives in the entire country.
Trimming the defense budget will not solve the country's deficit woes, but it would certainly help. Moreover, smart spending cuts would allow lawmakers to divert money toward creating jobs and growing the economy -- steps that would, over time, do far more to reduce the deficit.
A recent report by the Sustainable Defense Task Force provides a useful guide going forward. Tasked by Rep. Barney Frank to identify areas of the defense budget that could be cut without compromising U.S. vital interests, the task force found nearly $1 trillion in possible savings over 10 years.
You can read the whole thing here.


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