defense spending

Who Does the Chamber of Commerce Work For?

shocked george

Hero to libertarians everywhere Justin Amash has been taking the Chamber of Commerce to task on Twitter over the organization’s very real tendency to prop up crony capitalism, this time by openly supporting the Ex-Im bank (make sure you go down the rabbit hole of retweets to get the full effect):

 

It’s good to have people on the Hill pointing out that those with access in DC are the ones who really do pull the policy strings, for better or worse. And the Chamber definitely has that access, one of the largest lobbying groups, and reportedly the largest spender yearly on behalf of its members. So, it’s easy to find fault with with them. They epitomize those “special interests” that all who disapprove of big government complain about. But then, sometimes they go and do things like this:

For several years, Josten has pressed the case that the federal debt, and in particular the tab for retirement programs, is an urgent concern for business, even if executives don’t see its effects firsthand the way they do for more traditional business worries such as taxes or regulations.

House to vote on amendment to limit NSA funding

After some wrangling with Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Justin Amash’s amendment to the FY 2014 defense spending bill that would reinforce already existing limitations on the National Security Agency (NSA) will come to the floor for a vote as early as tomorrow.

This controversial part of the 2001 anti-terrorism law allows intelligence and law enforcement agencies to access third-party records pertaining to an investigation into criminal activity. News broke early last month that the NSA has used this authority under the PATRIOT Act to gain access to virtually every Americans’ phone records, even if they aren’t suspected of wrongdoing.

Just last week, it looked as though Amash’s amendment wouldn’t be approved for debate by the House Rules Committee. If House leaders kept the amendment off the floor, it’s possible that the entire defense spending measure would have been held up. This led to Amash and Boehner — the two have some rocky history — working together to forge a workable amendment that could be brought to the House floor for a vote.

Amash tweeted out his gratitude to Boehner for bringing the amendment out of committee and to the the floor for an up or down vote:

No More Tanks: Army Tells Congress to Stop Spending

Abrams tank

Whenever people call for cutting the military budget, the usual response goes something like  ”How can you keep the Army from getting the equipment it needs to fight wars?” Well, the problem with that response is highlighted today by this story from ABC:

Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams.

But senior Army officials have said repeatedly, “No thanks.”

It’s the inverse of the federal budget world these days, in which automatic spending cuts are leaving sought-after pet programs struggling or unpaid altogether. Republicans and Democrats for years have fought so bitterly that lawmaking in Washington ground to a near-halt.

Yet in the case of the Abrams tank, there’s a bipartisan push to spend an extra $436 million on a weapon the experts explicitly say is not needed.

“If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told The Associated Press this past week.

Why are the tank dollars still flowing? Politics.

Keeping the Abrams production line rolling protects businesses and good paying jobs in congressional districts where the tank’s many suppliers are located.

If there’s a home of the Abrams, it’s politically important Ohio. The nation’s only tank plant is in Lima. So it’s no coincidence that the champions for more tanks are Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman, two of Capitol’s Hill most prominent deficit hawks, as well as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. They said their support is rooted in protecting national security, not in pork-barrel politics.

Sequestration: An Inside Perspective

In two days, the sequestration axe will either drop, or it won’t.  Personally, I am about as close as you can get to the situation, and I have no idea how it will turn out.  While the “national security” argument against sequestration was gradually left behind, the arguments against the cuts have become increasingly economic in nature.  These arguments are problematic at best and disingenuous at worst.

A while back, I proposed a couple of ways to gradually cut more than sequestration does, therefore creating less pain in the current fiscal year; but as dieting often fails, cutting swiftly might be the only surefire method to actually cut spending.  Putting the cuts into perspective, as George Will did in his article this weekend, $85 billion from a $3.6 trillion budget, or 2.3%, is miniscule. The “draconian” cuts merely return us to 2006 levels.

I have been advocating deeper cuts for some time now, and as a defense contractor, am prepared to lose my job as a result (although I don’t expect to). I will try to be as objective as possible herein as I offer a couple of personal thoughts as we draw closer to the actuality of sequestration:

Sequestration Will Not Make the United States Less Safe

Written by Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Will sequestration undermine U.S. national security? Hardly. Today, the Cato Institute released a new infographic putting these minor cuts in perspective.

Military spending will remain at roughly 2006 levels—$603 billion, higher than peak U.S. spending during the Cold War. Meanwhile, we live in a safer world. The Soviet Union has been dead for more than two decades; no other nation, or combination of nations, has emerged since that can pose a comparable threat. We should have a defense budget that reflects this reality.

To be clear, sequestration was no one’s first choice. But the alternative—ever-increasing military spending detached from a legitimate debate over strategy—is worse. We should have had such a debate, one over the roles and missions of the U.S. military, long before this day of reckoning. And politicians could have pursued serious proposals to prudently reduce military spending. Instead, they chose the easy way out, avoiding difficult decisions that would have allowed for smarter cuts.

How The Sequester Torpedoed Conservatives’ Credibility

John Boehner

It was a mere tweet, but it summed up the entirety of the modern conservative movement:

It has everything: the source is the preeminent conservative “think tank” in DC, soon to be headed by Tea Party conservative and former senator Jim DeMint; lamenting about spending cuts; the laments are all about a government department that by all rights should not exist; and for good measure, it has a photograph. It shows precisely how the sequester had torpedoed conservative credibility.

We have heard relentlessly these past five years, ever since Obama was elected, that we need to cut spending. (Indeed, another Heritage article is a dorky little bit that specifically notes a “thrifty” House which demands that they have a balanced budget and avoid deficits.) Yet now that there is something which will cut—no, sorry, I can’t type that with a straight face; it will not cut spending, but merely slightly decrease the rate of spending—Heritage is up in arms about it.

Meanwhile, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Military Contractors) wrote the following in an op-ed:

Another speech from Obama, another huge disappointment

Obama gives State of the Union

Last night during a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama gave his fifth the State of the Union address where he laid out his agenda for the next year. As was anticipated, the speech carried over the Leftist themes of last month’s inaugural address and was more aggressive in tone.

Despite recent GDP numbers showing that the economy contracted in the last quarter of 2012, President Obama started off the hour long speech by repeat a familiar line, explaining that “[t]ogether, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.”

After a couple of shots at Congress, President Obama spent a few minutes discussing the sequester, claiming that “both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion – mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.” Obama claimed, “we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.”

If only that were true. In Cato Institute’s response to the State of the Union address, Michael Tanner explained, “Let’s be absolutely clear — there have been no spending cuts under this President.”

In 2010, the first year that this President was responsible for the budget, the federal government spent $3.4 trillion,” noted Tanner. “Last year, the federal government spent $3.5 trillion, and for the first four of last year, we’re spending at a fast pace than the first four months of last year.”

Why The Sequester Is Important

United States Capitol

On March 1st, the so-called sequester which is a series of automatic spending “cuts” that were agreed to in 2011 are supposed to take effect. The “cuts” are supposed to be around $1.2 trillion over 10 years spread equally among defense and non-defense spending. Democrats are complaining how women, children, and old people will be (insert one or more of the following here) starved, made homeless, and/or impoverished by the “cuts” in social welfare programs. Republican defense hawks are claiming that sequester will destroy the US military. Both groups also claim the sequester will put the economy back into recession and/or maybe even a depression. Indeed, both groups say that the sequester should be avoided at all costs and that we should “raise revenues” which is Washington speak for raising taxes to cover the amount that was supposed to be “cut”. However, if we are ever going to get our nation’s fiscal house in order, we have to allow the sequester to take effect.

Why I Hate The Sequester

Although I do believe that the sequester must be allowed to take effect, I don’t like it. For starters, $1.2 trillion in “cuts” (which are not actual budget cuts but instead are merely reductions in the rate of spending growth) is a very small amount when you look at how grave the nation’s financial condition is.

Secondly, the sequester does nothing to address entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare which are the two long-term drivers of future financial problems.

Third, the Democrats do have a point when they say the cuts fall disproportionately on non-defense spending. The Department of Defense is the largest single item of discretionary spending and all other agencies combined do not equal it. But the DoD is only taking 50% of the cuts.

Real Defense Budget Alternatives

With the “fiscal cliff” behind us, it’s important to remember that in less than two months, the Congress will be dealing with another manufactured crisis: The budget cuts of the 2011 Budget Control Act known as “sequestration.”  The Department of Defense will bear 41% of the prescribed cuts, eliminating an additional $492 billion over 10 years.  Although entitlement spending will also be on the table, the initial fight will be over cuts to the Defense budget.

A new study by the nonpartisan RAND Corporation concludes that the defense budget cuts cannot be taken without altering our overall defense strategy, and that “the department should modify defense strategy to fit the new resource constraints and prepare its course of action sooner rather than later.”

The authors highlight three alternative strategies, which anyone interested in this topic should read and consider.  An accompanying article by the authors states, “Reductions of the magnitude implied by sequestration—some $500 billion over the coming decade—cannot be accommodated without a re-examination of current defense strategy.”

GOP Groups’ Ads on Sequestration, Defense Jobs Are Misleading

Written by Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

It is no surprise that the defense contractors want to protect their profits by getting taxpayers to pony up more money. Now they have secured the support of Crossroads GPS in a commercial against Senate candidate and former Virginia governor Tim Kaine. The Crossroads ad follows similar ones from Kaine’s challenger, George Allen, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. All three ads claim that spending cuts under sequestration will result in devastating job losses to the defense industry and Virginia; the Crossroads ad claims 520,000 jobs will be lost. But these estimates are wildly inflated and represent the short-term interests of the defense industry, not the American taxpayer.


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