Don’t Use Deficit Fears to Gut Defense

November 4th, 2010 at 3:53 pm | 66 Comments |

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“What can the government do to create jobs, salve which is the number one issue?” asked NBC News’ Chip Reid during Obama’s post-election news conference Wednesday afternoon. Answered the president:

Well, capsule I think this is going to be an important question for both Democrats and Republicans. You know, sale I think the American people absolutely are concerned about spending and deficits. And I have a deficit commission that is putting forward its ideas. It’s a bipartisan group that includes Republican and Democratic members of Congress…

Obama, I’m afraid, is right. Why, even Tea Party icon Rand Paul, fresh from his triumph in Tuesday’s Senate election in Kentucky, has been pushing the need for “deficit reduction.”

This website, FrumForum, has been a lonely voice crying out for bipartisanship and reasonable compromise across the political aisle. As a statement of principle, of course, this is wise and good public policy. America has deep and seemingly intractable problems that will require bipartisan solutions.

But here’s the problem: Any bipartisan consensus on “deficit reduction” is seriously misplaced and might well stymie and inhibit economic growth. Yet without economic growth — robust economic growth of at least three to four percent annually — there’s absolutely no way we ever can address our long-term financial woes.

Moreover, the only thing that Democrats seem to want to cut is the defense budget. And unfortunately, Tea Partiers like Rand Paul are all too willing to reach across the political aisle to gut defense. In fact, defense seems to be the only type of spending that Rand has suggested he would cut.

This after Obama and the Dems — aided and abetted, notably, by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham — already have cut an estimated $330 billion (!) from the defense budget. Among the casualties: the Army’s only Top 10 weapon systems modernization program, Future Combat Systems, and the Air Force’s C-17 jet transport.

But the real problem with the federal budget is not defense spending; it is entitlements: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and now “comprehensive national healthcare reform.”

Indeed, entitlements are ticking financial time bombs which are fast consuming the federal budget and seriously undermining economic growth. And simply balancing the books — through, say, tax hikes — to ensure “deficit reduction” does nothing necessarily to reduce the economic burden of these behemoth social-welfare programs.

Especially today, when capital and labor are mobile, the United States literally cannot afford higher rates of taxation that might inhibit more robust economic growth.

In fact, as Mitt Romney observed in Wednesday’s Washington Post,

With entitlement spending about half of all federal spending, the president has no choice but to address Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid… Regardless of the reforms chosen, the entitlements budget should be subject to…a [predetermined cap]…

Decide from the outset the amount that the government will spend for the year. Don’t add up all the program requirements, departmental requests and political wish lists to calculate the total — that’s surrendering, not budgeting.

Romney wisely notes that “the nation’s 50-year average annual tax burden has been 18 percent of [the Gross Domestic Product, or] GDP.” If the Bush tax cuts are fully extended, he writes, the tax burden will still be “18.4 percent of GDP in 2020 — higher than the historic tax average.

“Lower taxes,” he adds, “will propel growth, add jobs and produce a larger GDP that can accommodate our spending priorities.”

Romney also is smart enough to know that we can’t balance the budget on the backs of our troops. “Don’t push defense [spending] below four percent of GDP,” he warns. “With today’s global threats and allies’ diminishing military capabilities, freedom will increasingly depend on American strength.”

That’s exactly right. As Jack Kemp memorably put it during another period of economic decline and national malaise, “Austerity is not the answer; austerity is the problem.” And, the corollary of that is: “deficit reduction is not the answer; deficit reduction, in fact, may well be the problem.”

John Guardiano blogs at www.ResoluteCon.Com, and you can follow him on Twitter: @JohnRGuardiano.

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66 Comments so far ↓

  • Rob_654

    We need to be adults in the United States and realize that the spending, deficits and programs are not going to be dealt with with a single answer.

    We cannot “cut” only and deal with it.
    We cannot “raise taxes” only and deal with it.

    This is going to take cuts pretty much everywhere including the big three (Social Security, Medicare and Defense) – if those three are off the table – or even is one off the table then we have no real course forward.

    As for defense – we spend about as much as the rest of the world combined – and yet a few terrorists on 9/11 took out the Twin Towers, part of the Pentagon and if not for civilians would have likely taken out a significant target in DC – and our military that we have spent an enormous amount of money on was completely impotent to stop it or do anything about it – and we have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan against no real military and we can’t seem to win.

  • sinz54

    We could maintain a strong national defense and still save money, if we realized that the world geopolitical balance has shifted dramatically.

    NATO is obsolete. Its purpose was to defend Western Europe from a Russian attack, most likely through Germany. To a child studying in grammar school today, that issue is nearly as remote as the Congress of Vienna.

    Russia is dying and Europe is a backwater. Asia (including South Asia which includes India) and the Middle East are where the action is. The U.S. should maintain strong forces to defend our vital interests there.

    I suggest phasing out NATO and pulling all our troops out of continental Europe. Instead, the U.S. should sign a separate mutual defense pact with Britain.

    It’s time to tell Europe to stand on its own two feet and stop being America’s welfare recipient.

  • gadams

    This is an important discussion. But let’s start by getting facts right; Guardiano does not. First, Democrats have made it perfectly clear that they are prepared to negotiate on the federal budget with everything on the table. Take a good look at the bipartisan report on the federal debt that will come out this month from the Rivlin-Domenici panel, for additional fodder. It does not foster good discussion to make an untrue assertion like “the only thing that Democrats seem to want to cut is the defense budget.” Nor does it help to use words like “gut defense,” which nobody seems inclined to do. That dismisses what needs to be discussed, which is alternatives for our security at lower cost.

    Second fact issue. You assert that Obama has cut $330 billion from the defense budget. Wrong again, though you share that responsibility with the administration, which has overclaimed the savings. Secretary Gates and Obama have terminated hardware programs which, Gates asserts, over time, would save #330 billion (time can go through 2025, for example). Worse, two of the big terminations – the C-17 and the F-22 – which are counted in that total, were not in DOD’s long-range budget plan, hence a big chunk of that pseudo-savings goes away. Moreover, in the case of the FCS, which was in the plan, the Gates savings claim failed to net out the add-on of another R&D program for the Army, to replace FCS. So a big chunk of that savings goes away, too.

    It’s a worthy debate, needs to be had, but the facts need to line up. Check out Rivlin-Domenici and the Winter Foreign Affairs for more ideas.

    and the Dems — aided and abetted, notably, by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham — already have cut an estimated $330 billion (!) from the defense budget. Among the casualties: the Army’s only Top 10 weapon systems modernization program, Future Combat Systems, and the Air Force’s C-17 jet transport.

  • pnumi2


    Sorry if I misread your ‘broken system’ argument.’ My broken system argument is a dagger in the heart of the Frankenstein that America has become, e.g., New York and California; combined population 55 million; 4 U.S. Senators — Alaska and Wyoming; combined population 1.3 million; 4 U.S. Senators.

    It worked in the late 18th century. It doesn’t work now.

    I know that’s what the founding fathers — Dr. Frankenstein — ordained, but 210 years later it’s undemocratic and foolish. They also ordained that the candidate who came in second in a Presidential race should be President of the Senate. They also ordained that the state legislators should pick that state’s U.S. Senators. Both of those are in the toilet; why should not 2 Senators from each state join those in the Constitutional latrine?.

    Initially, this gross inconsistency of true democracy was deemed necessary to get the small colonies to join the Revolution. Well, the Revolution is over and now the disenfranchisement of the large states by continuing to give the small states up to a 40 to 1 advantage will be the ruination of America, if America is not already ruined.

  • PracticalGirl

    John Guardiano:

    You say

    “But the real problem with the federal budget is not defense spending; it is entitlements”

    You seem to combine two mutually exclusive goals: No cuts in military spending or US government-provided jobs AND cuts in entitlements. How can you possibly do this with a straight face, when the US military’s entitlement bloat (lifetime pensions, insurance etc) is huge and gets bigger as the US military takes on a larger and larger percentage of actually employed Americans? I’m not necessarily saying cutting personnel thus putting more Americans out of work, but you need to be more forthcoming about how on-going military benefits add to the US entitlement burden.

  • CD-Host

    pnumi2 –

    I don’t mind having two bodies picked in radically different ways. And right now the Senate is going a good job of defending rural America. The city machines control the financing of campaigns. They control the House more or less. Of course unrepresentative and filibuster is a huge problem so the senate needs different rules.

    I’d like to make the house much more democratic, say by increasing the number of reps back to our original ratios and having them vote by computer. ( so one per 30k. That would be fair. It would also move the President to being essentially chosen by popular vote and not by the small states. And maybe return Senate elections to a caucus system, make it like the house of lords but with a democratic spin.

    But I do want two legislatures and I do want them radically different.

  • pnumi2


    Defending rural America against what? ThePlutocrats? The Oligarchs? Defending rural America is not a reason d’être for the enormous veto power of the Senate. Figure out what the population of the 21 smallest states is. It is enough to prevent confirmation of appointees, judges, etc. It can reject everything thing that Congress, the People’s House, does. The United States Senate is the very meaning of the tyranny of the minority.

    And you would wait for them to change their rules. The sun will become a red giant before that happens. When we say, “One man man, one vote,” Do we mean “one man, one vote,’ except when the undemocratic element of the government decides to throw that provision under the bus?

    I’d accept one state, one senator. That would be a start and a step in the right direction. Get rid of 50 millionaires. Do you like that?

    “The House of Lords …with a democratic spin” The House of Oligarchs. It will remain unchanged for generations.

    The rest of the world are not idiots. They see us marching around the world setting up parliamentary democracies and then going back home to the U.S. Senate, where 41 multimillionaires can veto any legislation, including a stimulus package recommended by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board, but rejected by some Seantors who have no experience in fixing economies but know what helps them get re-elected and what doesn’t.

    Oh, and gotcha, Obama.

  • CD-Host

    When we say, “One man man, one vote,”

    We never said that. We have one house which is one man one vote (more or less) and another that is one state one vote (more or less). We have a federal not a national system.

    The United States Senate is the very meaning of the tyranny of the minority.

    Not really. The minority can’t do anything without the House.

    If you are saying do I support an system that is entirely based on popular vote, no.

    Defending rural America against what? ThePlutocrats? The Oligarchs?

    Yes. There have been a lot of times when the Senate has been the defense against crazy right wing legislation, like the Bush administration. The Senate, because it is ruled by rural interests is not beholden to the same financial interests as the cities.

  • pnumi2


    I know we never said it — to our discredit — but it was said and should continue to be said.

    Which do you prefer ‘one man, no votes’ or’ one man, two votes?’

    I never thought of the tyrannical minority doing something the majority did not want; I think of the tyrannical minority as being able to paralyze government.

    The population of America is over 300 million. It was 180 million when I was born 70 years ago. The rural population has shrunk. All the new people do not live on farms; they’re in the cities, filling up land fills and demading potable water. It’s the 21st century. We have other fish to fry besides the conflicting demands between city folk and country folk.

    We can’t let rural communities tell the large populations in the cities what they can and can not do.

    One man, one vote. A unicameral legislature. And you cut government spending in the process.

  • nhthinker

    “We can’t let rural communities tell the large populations in the cities what they can and can not do.”

    Cities can vote for an overbearing overtaxing local government- Why do they want to foist an overbearing overtaxing federal one on rural and suburban communities?

    Our republic was designed to prevent overbearing city folk from foisting their mob rule over independent frontier minded people.

  • pnumi2


    I don’t entirely disagree with you. I was having a friendly disagreement with John.

    That said, America’s strength is in her financial sector, her industrial sector, and her consumers who comprise 2/3rds of the economy and live in the large cities. Giving 35% of the population a stranglehold on the other 65% through a bicameral form of government, a Republic where one Chamber which is not representative of the people can cancel out the the will of the other which is,certainly is your prerogative.

    I’m sorry but I don’t.

    In spite of my snarky commentary, I don’t have a dog in this or any fights here. I”m over 70, have no children and grand children and was 100% liquid long before we all discovered Credit Default Swaps. I love this country, but I am worried about it. I have more than a few friends with young children and wonder what their lives will be like in 20 years. I am a liberal Democrat but don’t tolerate any shit from them either.

    I’m spending my Senior years listening to the wise and the know-it-alls, looking for any opportunity to upset their apple carts.

  • nhthinker

    The make up of the Constitution intentionally made it hard for the federal government to be overbearing. The scope of government was only to be changed by Amendment of a super-majority of the both the Congress and the Senate and by three-fourths of the State legislatures.

    It was COMPLETELY intentional to give smaller population states a greater vote in order to combat the overbearing nature of the large population centers.

    The MSM only focuses on the larger population centers already anyway. Do you really want the US to follow Greece?

    I’m just on the better side of 50 and have a wife and two teens – and no thoughts of retiring for at least another decade or two. I listen to a lot of shit on the left and the right and try to dispose of it properly: sometimes it lingers.

    I see liberals and conservatives trying to find their way. I see voluntary cooperation to try to improve things as generally the best approach. Federal government is not a good substitute for a moral fabric: families, communities, clubs, congregations, towns and states are much more effective at addressing most issues.

    No reasonable person would ever think about taking more than they need from a church fund- but everyone thinks they should take as many dollars out of the government as they can get before they lean on their families. That bad behavior extends to those that use tax shelters specifically to lower their taxes.

    If the rural states were trying to make the federal government overbearing on the cities, then I might not disagree with your “one-man-one-vote” plea.

  • easton

    pnumi2, I wish it had been one senator one state with the balance distributed by population. That is 50 State Senators with the other 50 apportioned by population. Ah well, such is life that it wasn’t.

  • pnumi2

    I don’t think we have to worry about any group changing the way we elect our Senators and Congressmen. Even though we have the methods, it’s too late to use them. Technology and special interests have a vested interest in the status quo.

    Gone are the days when we could get sore because we had a four term president, and we had to set a limit of two terms for the office. 30 years after that we regretted the amendment because we had elected a god, and he could only serve two terms.

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