Focus on National Security
By BRUCE BARTLETT,
Posted: June 15, 2010
Concerns about budget deficits and rising debt levels are leading to fractures in the heretofore unified conservative support for ever-higher defense spending. At least a few Republicans are now openly suggesting significant cuts in the defense budget, raising concerns among conservatives primarily concerned about national security.
that ultimately national security conservatives will be forced to choose between cuts in the defense budget and tax increases to reduce deficits.
On June 14, Kim Holmes of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation said the defense budget must not be cut no matter how big the budget deficit is. Any savings achieved in defense programs should only be used to expand other defense programs, he said.
On June 11, the Sustainable Defense Task Force, an ad hoc group established by a bipartisan group of congressmen, issued a report detailing options for cutting defense spending by almost $1 trillion over 10 years.
● The Fiscal Times reported on this task force on June 12.
Also on June 11, Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf reviewed some recent CBO analyses of the defense budget. Spending is rising, he said, largely because of weapons systems inflation and increasing personnel costs, especially health benefits for military retirees. More details are available in a June 9 presentation to the budget commission by CBO assistant director Matthew Goldberg.
On June 7, The Politico reported that increasing numbers of conservative Republicans and Tea Party members are pressing for cuts in defense spending.
A June 4 Gallup Poll found that the two top security concerns of Americans were terrorism and the debt—both ranked as “extremely serious” by 40% of people.
Also on June 4, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered department officials to find $102 billion in savings over the next five years compared to baseline projections.
The National Priorities Project estimates that as of May 30 the budgetary cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars passed the $1 trillion mark.
The latest National Security Strategy released by the White House on May 27 contains an unusual amount of discussion of economic issues for such a document. Among the concerns expressed: “We must prevent the reemergence of imbalanced growth, with American consumers buying and borrowing, and Asian and other exporting countries selling and accumulating claims.”
Also on May 27, the White House issued a strongly-worded veto threat of the National Defense Authorization bill primarily because of the inclusion of weapons procurements by Congress that the president deems unnecessary.
On May 18, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, perhaps the most conservative member of the Senate, sent a 10-page letter to the budget commission that is surprisingly critical of defense spending.
On May 11, American University political scientist Gordon Adams criticized Defense Secretary Robert Gates for being too modest in the proposed defense budget cuts that he outlined in a speech at Fort Leavenworth on May 7.
An April 23 report from the Congressional Research Service attempted to explain the highly complex defense acquisition process.
Bruce Bartlett is an American historian and columnist who focuses on the intersection between politics and economics. He has written for Forbes Magazine and Creators Syndicate, and his work is informed by many years in government, including as a senior policy analyst in the Reagan White House. He is the author of seven books including the New York Times best-seller, Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy (Doubleday, 2006)