There is an ongoing debate in Congress about defense spending. While Republicans have sought further spending cuts to discretionary spending, many have resisted efforts to cut waste and other needless spending inside the Pentagon’s budget.
The Constitution provides the federal government with power to provide for defense. But far too often members of Congress use this as an excuse to justify spending that has less to do with protecting the country and more to do with lining the pockets of donors or other politically-connected government contractors.
Two free market groups — the National Taxpayers Union and the R Street Institute — released a new study yesterday explaining that conservatives can roll back much of the excess in the defense budget and still protect the homeland.
In the study — Defending America, Defending Taxpayers: How Pentagon Spending Can Better Reflect Conservative Values — Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, and Andrew Moylan, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, outline nearly $1.9 trillion in very specific budget savings that can be attained over the next decade without sacrificing national security.
“Safeguarding the nation from its enemies is the single most important task the American people have entrusted to Washington. As such, it confers upon our leaders a special responsibility to balance all aspects of national security in developing a coherent policy,” explain Sepp and Moylan. “This entails not simply cobbling together a war fighting capability and funding sophisticated weapons. It must also mean differentiating needs from wants, planning for economic as well as military strength, exercising consistent oversight, and ensuring that our defense posture reflects the sustainable,right-sized government conservatives seek.”
“Unfortunately, Congresses and Presidents have often fallen short of fulfilling this responsibility. Instead of methodical budgeting, taxpayers are frequently treated to horse-trading sessions designed to allay parochial fears over ‘local jobs.’” they continue. “Such a notion is offensive to conservatives, who opposed the 2009 ‘stimulus’ bill’s premise that government-directed deficit spending can guarantee prosperity better than truly private economic activity.”
The savings come from three different areas, the specifics of which can be found in the report embedded below:
- $385.8 billion in reducing, canceling or eliminating low-priority systems: These are systems that are either unneeded or unwanted by the Defense Department, but still receive funding.
- $618.6 billion in reforming out-of-control healthcare and retirement costs: This would include raising the retirement age to 67 and reforming TriCare, the military healthcare program.
- $878.5 billion in correcting deficient processes: These recommendations include reducing the Defense Department’s travel and advertising budgets, consolidating grocery and retail stores, and reducing the department’s reliance on contractors.
Some of recommendations may face resistance from hawkish conservatives, but Sepp and Moylan explain that fiscal conservatives should embrace the reforms as the the country is still reeling from significant budget deficits and an ever-growing national debt. They offer examples over the last several decades were conservatives — including those who have been seen as strong on defense, such as President Ronald Reagan and Dick Cheney — tried to roll back waste in the defense budget.
“Too often, conservatives in and out of government feel as if they must ‘set aside’ long-held beliefs about national security or foreign policy to support Pentagon budget restraint. The recommendations in this report give lie to such a ‘choice,’” explain the authors. “More broadly, however, a robust and fiscally sustainable defense is not only compatible with limited government, it is essential.”
“Unbridled spending at the federal level has led, and will continue to lead, to crushing levels of debt and taxation,” they continue. “Even though Congress and the President agreed in January to enact tax hikes of hundreds of billions of dollars, the Congressional Budget Office projects that publicly-held federal debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product will rise to increasingly burdensome levels after the current decade ends.”
Perhaps former Admiral Mike Mullen said it best when he noted that “[o]ur national debt is our biggest national security threat.” Some conservatives may continue to deny that defense spending has to be reform, but they do so at a detriment to the United States long-term fiscal health. That mindset has to change.