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Millions of Americans have become unified by the message of lower taxes and less government spending over the past few years. Our voices were heard last November when a significant number of deficit hawks were elected to Congress. Many signaled that they were willing to put every item of the budget on the table. Yes, that includes military spending. As Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has said “national defense is the most important thing we do in Washington, but there’s still waste in the military budget.” Unlike most of what Washington does, defense is a constitutional function of the federal government. But we cannot restore fiscal responsibility without addressing the bloated defense budget.
Just to be clear, FreedomWorks does not take a position on foreign policy. However, we have always railed against wasteful spending in all areas of the federal budget. The Department of Defense (DoD) budget is just as prone to reckless spending as any other government department. Politicians are not angels. It’s foolish to believe that every single dollar in the defense budget is spent in the wisest possible manner. The truth is that the defense budget has been greatly susceptible to earmarks and pet projects.
Only brave leaders are willing to call for cuts in military spending. An unfortunate stigma still exists that those who propose reasonable military cuts must not support the troops. That’s far from the truth. Both parties have shown a willingness to cut the military budget. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Barry Frank (D-Mass.) recently set party differences aside to call for significant reductions in military expenditures. Department of Defense spending has enjoyed protected status that has been isolated from serious scrutiny. We are not calling for military spending cuts that would put the troops in harm way. We are instead calling for sensible cuts such as ending the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program that funds an extra General Electric engine. This simple cut would save taxpayers $485 million dollars. That’s just a small fraction of the defense budget that needs to go.
Powerful special interests benefit from heavy military spending. Rent seeking General Electric is one of the biggest defense contractors in the United States. They heavily lobby for a bloated defense budget that would add to their company’s bottom line at the expense of taxpayers. Last month, the Pentagon cancelled General Electric’s alternate F136 engine. The House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon has been committed to keeping the General Electric engine alive. He has been increasingly hostile towards any military spending cuts. That makes sense since his top campaign contributors include defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing Co. and General Dynamics. General Electric also donated thousands of dollars to his reelection campaign in 2010.
The House is expected to consider H.R. 1540 the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 soon. The bill sponsored by Rep. McKeon would provide $690 billion in funding for the Department of Defense. It includes funding for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The Washington Post reports that “the pressure is for less and less spending, but McKeon makes clear that he would ‘like to see a higher top-line number.’ He concedes that ‘every dollar is precious,’ but is concerned about ‘cutting back to the degree we have in the last few years.” He is “visibly irritated” by the modest military cuts that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has proposed. How much has Washington cut back in military spending? Not enough.
The Pentagon budget for 2010 was $693 billion—more than all other discretionary spending programs combined. That’s nearly half of all military spending on earth. Military spending has doubled over the past decade when adjusted for inflation. Under President Bush, military spending averaged 3.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product. It has increased to 4.9 percent—a full percentage point higher—under President Obama. U.S. military outlays in real terms are higher than at any time in our entire history. Think about it: we’re spending more than we ever spent during the Cold War, Korean War and Vietnam War.
More Americans are concerned about our national debt which has sparked greater scrutiny of the entire federal budget. We cannot afford to avoid certain parts of the budget. Unfortunately, several GOP presidential candidates have noted that they will not even touch the bloated defense budget. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney recently stated that “I’m not going to cut the defense spending.” Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty joined him by saying “I'm not one who's going to stand before you and say we need to cut the defense budget.” True fiscal stewards will put wasteful military spending on the cutting board.
The subject of military spending is finally getting more attention like it deserves. We must ask ourselves the question: “how much is too much spending?” A public debate on military spending is needed without any ad hominem attacks. The Washington Post reports that there is an “odd combination of fiscal conservatives and liberals who would like nothing better than to hack away at the Pentagon. McKeon seems determined to make sure that doesn’t happen.” It is impossible to reduce the size and scope of the federal government without tackling the bloated defense budget. We should not have any sacred cows in dealing with our $14.3 trillion national debt.