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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Defense Spending and Deficit Reduction

The defense budget seems to be off the table when it comes to budget discussions, but it shouldn't be:

America's Unquenchable Defense Spending, by Michael Cohen: If there's one issue that seems to unite an increasingly divided and fractured capital, it is the ever-expanding federal budget deficit. ... Except one area of the federal budget is seemingly off limits: the $692 billion elephant in the room -- America's defense budget.
The calls from Republicans and Democrats for belt-tightening rarely, if ever, seem to extend to the military. Deficit hawks in the House have even demanded that an amendment to the $37 billion Afghanistan spending bill that would allocate $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs ... be paid for with offsetting spending cuts. No such demands have been made about war spending, which since 9/11 tops more than $1 trillion. ...
Yet, outside ... Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the defense budget is by far the biggest chunk of the nation's fiscal pie. Aside from money allocated for the Pentagon there is another more than $300 billion in additional outlays for costs like homeland security, military aid, veteran's benefits and military-related interest on the national debt. That's more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money -- or about $3 out of every $10 in tax revenue.
And while the defense budget has been growing for decades, since 9/11 the numbers have jumped significantly. ... [T]he money is not just going to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nonwar defense spending makes up more than a third of the increase.
All of this is happening at a time when the U.S. faces no major foreign rival and al-Qaida, according to the nation's intelligence chiefs, has been reduced to a mere 400 to 500 key operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan alone, the U.S. is spending $100 billion and deploying 100,000 troops to face an enemy that has only about 50 to 100 operatives in the entire country.
Trimming the defense budget will not solve the country's deficit woes, but it would certainly help. Moreover, smart spending cuts would allow lawmakers to divert money toward creating jobs and growing the economy -- steps that would, over time, do far more to reduce the deficit. A recent report by the Sustainable Defense Task Force ... found nearly $1 trillion in possible savings over 10 years. ...
[I]f Congress is willing to consider cuts to Social Security and Medicare, or won't even fund money for teachers and benefits for the unemployed out of deficit fears, why should the defense budget be off the table?
Of course, as the report also suggests, the surest way to truly reduce U.S. military spending would be to adopt a policy of greater "restraint" that makes the deployment of U.S. forces a true last resort, minimizes overseas commitments and stops subsidizing the defense responsibilities of our allies in Europe and Asia. ...

In the short-run, cuts in defense spending (or more "restraint") could be used to temporarily fund recession fighting and job creating programs. In the longer run, as those expenditures expire, the reductions in defense spending would help with the debt problem.

    Posted by on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 12:42 AM in Budget Deficit, Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan | Permalink  Comments (142)


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