Posted by Brad @ 2:54 pm on January 27th 2010

The Sanctity of Defense Spending

Most have probably already read Glenn Greenwald’s upbraiding of the idea for always leaving defense spending out of the fiscal responsibility equation. But for my money Spencer Ackerman gets at it more cleanly.

The point, in other words, is that the problem’s even worse than Glenn Greenwald portrays it. Everyone in Washington who studies the Pentagon budget quickly finds gobs and gobs of wasteful spending. Not some people. Not dirty hippies. Every. Single. Defense. Analyst. If I was so inclined, I could spend my days doing nothing but attending conferences on the latest defense jeremiad or policy paper about how to cut it. I already spend too much of my time reading this stuff on defense-community email listservs.

For the Obama administration to exempt defense spending from its kinda-sorta-spending-freeze is a position that makes no sense from a policy perspective. None at all. From a political perspective, it only begins to make sense because a brain-dead media would amplify the braying ignorance blasted from a GOP congressional megaphone about Defense Spending Cuts OMG. And even then it doesn’t make sense. A holdover Republican Defense Secretary is now the biggest advocate of an even slightly sensible defense budget in the Obama administration.

A lot of people were upset at the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, but I think for pure get-under-my-skin red-in-the-face outrage, the thing in the 2004 campaign that bothered me most were Zell Miller, Dick Cheney, and a host of conservative commentators jubilantly trying to nail John Kerry to the wall for being, I guess, not pro-national defense enough. The ammunition? A bunch of weapons systems and the like that he had voted to cut. So you got a whole bunch of crap piled six feet high about how John Kerry wanted to shaft the Pentagon, John Kerry doesn’t support the troops, John Kerry is against giving America the weapons it needs, imagine the world without all those things John Kerry voted to cut funding for, John Kerry will not let the military defend America, etc. etc. etc.

The context, of course, is that John Kerry did not, in fact, sit there reading a “Defund the F22 Phantoms” bill and chose to vote “aye”. Rather, he voted for defense budgets in the early 90s that dramatically slashed spending on a number of weapons systems the Pentagon and military didn’t want. Those budgets were drawn up following the collapse of the Soviet Union, as very reasonable attempts to cut a bunch of totally unnecessary spending. And they were, of course, drawn up by President George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney. Cut to Zell Miller giving the keynote at the Republican national convention in 2004 going, line by line, down the weapons systems that those budgets cut, blaming what has been an entirely correct spending drawndown as if it were John Kerry out to screw the military.

We’ve reached a point where Republicans have gotten so fetishistic about the United States military that they DEMAND we overspend by something in the arena of 10 to 1 on defense and military, and where any attempts to even broach the topic will result in a major kick in the pants for the poor schlub who brings it up or, indeed, even agrees with the military.

Roughly 55% of the federal budget is legally-mandatory entitlement spending. Another 10% is debt interest. 20% is defense. And 15% or so is discretionary. The Democrats won’t let us touch that 55% (that’s a broad stroke—actually a lot of the health care reform package might have actually made a dent), the Republicans won’t let us touch another 30% (another broad stroke, in that they have no interest in raising more revenue to touch the debt, and will scream bloody murder for anybody who tries to touch military spending), which leaves…well, that discretionary money. But cordoning off 85% of the federal budget from any fiscal reform is pretty stupid, and it is worth noting that the Republicans have much to owe up to on that as well.


  1. Not excluding all national-security related spending out of the idea is political suicide. We can argue about whether or not it makes sense, but it’s irrelevant because now just isn’t the time to try to make that argument.

    Comment by Adam — 1/27/2010 @ 6:17 pm

  2. One could make the same argument about meaningful entitlement reform. Or indeed most any measures that don’t involve less taxes and more services.

    Comment by Brad — 1/27/2010 @ 6:30 pm

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