Congress in Wonderland

The children's book Alice In Wonderland, tells a charming story of a girl trying to make sense of a senseless imaginary world. Our national defense seems to be caught in an oddly similar story, which is, unfortunately, not a harmless imagined child's story, and not at all charming

In the story the white rabbit (the Military) is at the Mad Hatter's birthday party (the Capitol building).  The white rabbit tells the Mad Hatter (Congress) that we are late (we need to fix the Military).  So the Mad Hatter breaks the rabbit's watch (the military budget), puts jam and butter into the watch (cuts the funding), then tells the rabbit that the watch will still work. 

The third rail of politics is Social Security.  A US politician is loath to even talk about cutting Social Security, or any other entitlement program.  What rail is the national defense?  According to the vote that just came out of the House of Representatives, defense funding is not a constitutionally mandated requirement; instead, they view the military budget as a cookie jar, to be raided at will by politicians looking to buy votes.  Confused politicians will fight tooth and nail for the entitlements that they use to buy votes; but in their one, enumerated, single most important constitutional duty, "provide for the common defense", they view national defense as nothing more than a suggestion. 

On the 17th of May, Congress, in a 397 to 27 vote, has forced the military to cut $32.1 billion from its budget over the next five years.  The biggest hit is aimed at the Army, which is currently shouldering most of the burden in the war.  One may think that this is acceptable reduction of an annual budget of roughly $538.5 billion (including the $100 billon being withheld by Congress).  However the question is why the military is being forced to cut back in a time of war?

Many in Congress love to crow about how the military is getting run down in maintenance, retention, and training.  Yet the same people are refusing to give the military what it needs to heal itself, conduct a war, and stay ahead of the rest of the world.

Congress is taking $26 billion dollars from the American People, to buy votes to fund the Congress's new policy game of, "lose the war".   However, one could rightly say that Congress is taking from the budget of the US Military in the form of $32.1 billion from 2008-2013 in funding, to pay for the pork that they are dolling out to shiftless members of Congress to buy votes for a policy that will severely damage National Security, otherwise known as withdrawal from Iraq.

Many people seem to have forgotten what the American Military has been recently asked to do.  Here is the short list. 

  • Increase the US Army by 30,000 soldiers;
  • Fight a war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in many other diverse places around the world against our Islamic fascist enemies;
  • Keep the military technology ahead of the rest of the world to maintain a overwhelming conventional overmatch to competitor nations;
  • Secure the seas for safe passage of ships to provide economic security to the nation and the world;
  • Increase the Marine Corps and Army by almost 100,000 over the initial 30,000 mandated increase;
  • Have the best trained Military in the world;
  • Provide every technology we can to protect our fighting men and women; maintain air superiority; and fight two conventional regional wars simultaneously.   
This all takes money. 

While $538.5 billion dollars is a great deal of money to the average American, the military budget is still less than 4% of the GDP.  Compare that to the Cold War funding (between 13.1 and 4.6% of GDP) or WWII (about 40% of GDP).  The military doesn't even have the money to do the missions that it is asked to do now; yet Congress, somehow, sees fit to cut the military budget.  It is as if we are in wonderland, and Congress is painting the roses red in an effort to cover up their increasingly damaging policies.   

Gone are the days of the infamous $1500 toilet seats and $500 hammers.  The military budgetary process is very restrictive and regulated from within, and from without by the CBO, and GAO.  The money that the DoD asks for is required by the demands of Congress.   Not the other way around. 

When Congress says to the Army, "Cut your budget," the Army must decide which Congressionally-mandated program(s) that they have to cut.  There is no magical slush fund hidden away by the Military to cover such forced congressional cuts.  So what gets cut?

The Army and the Air Force have started with future combat systems.  In addition to the $825 million cuts in future systems over the last several years, the Army is being forced to cut $867 million from it's FCS (Future Combat Systems).  The Air Force is cutting back the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

And this is just for starters.

Most Americans don't know that the Army is operating on technology developed in the 1970s, under the Nixon Administration, cut under the Carter Administration, and reestablished, then fielded under the Reagan Administration.  Every time the US Army attempts to modernize, Congress finds a way to cut the future systems down or out of the budget.  As a result the Army is running on 1970s technology, built in the 80s.  Rumsfield came in and put a lot of effort into modernizing our military, but Congress at every turn blocked, and continues to block these attempts. 

They then cry foul when the 1980s equipment can't handle the rigors of 5 years of combat; then they cut the very modernization budget they are demanding each time it comes before them.               

The Congress is robbing from military's future readiness to pay for pork, rather than cut the enormous amounts of waste and fraud contained in entitlement programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and a plethora of other entitlement programs for congressional districts.  The 397-27 vote shows the Republicans are just as complicit as the Democrats in this travesty. 

A final question

Why is the Constitutionally-required mandate, funding the national defense, always the first to be cut back, while virtually every other governmental program grows unchecked?  The American people have to decide what their priories are: national defense or entitlements. 

You can't get blood from a rock.  We need to stop squeezing the military to pay for entitlements and pork.  If our elected leaders don't stop kicking the can down the road for others to fix, then a time will come when the military will, eventually break. 

When this time comes remember to look to the Congress not the DoD.  You'll have to remind yourself, because the media surely won't.

Our leaders have to look into the future, past the 50-meter targets, and start addressing the 1000-meter targets before they become huge, insurmountable problems.  We need leaders of vision looking ahead, not a Congress buying votes with pork. It's a dangerous world out there.    

Gerd Schroeder is a Major in the United States Army and a frequent contributor to American Thinker.  Major Schroeder has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. His views are his own.  He does not speak for the US Army or the Department of Defense.
The children's book Alice In Wonderland, tells a charming story of a girl trying to make sense of a senseless imaginary world. Our national defense seems to be caught in an oddly similar story, which is, unfortunately, not a harmless imagined child's story, and not at all charming

In the story the white rabbit (the Military) is at the Mad Hatter's birthday party (the Capitol building).  The white rabbit tells the Mad Hatter (Congress) that we are late (we need to fix the Military).  So the Mad Hatter breaks the rabbit's watch (the military budget), puts jam and butter into the watch (cuts the funding), then tells the rabbit that the watch will still work. 

The third rail of politics is Social Security.  A US politician is loath to even talk about cutting Social Security, or any other entitlement program.  What rail is the national defense?  According to the vote that just came out of the House of Representatives, defense funding is not a constitutionally mandated requirement; instead, they view the military budget as a cookie jar, to be raided at will by politicians looking to buy votes.  Confused politicians will fight tooth and nail for the entitlements that they use to buy votes; but in their one, enumerated, single most important constitutional duty, "provide for the common defense", they view national defense as nothing more than a suggestion. 

On the 17th of May, Congress, in a 397 to 27 vote, has forced the military to cut $32.1 billion from its budget over the next five years.  The biggest hit is aimed at the Army, which is currently shouldering most of the burden in the war.  One may think that this is acceptable reduction of an annual budget of roughly $538.5 billion (including the $100 billon being withheld by Congress).  However the question is why the military is being forced to cut back in a time of war?

Many in Congress love to crow about how the military is getting run down in maintenance, retention, and training.  Yet the same people are refusing to give the military what it needs to heal itself, conduct a war, and stay ahead of the rest of the world.

Congress is taking $26 billion dollars from the American People, to buy votes to fund the Congress's new policy game of, "lose the war".   However, one could rightly say that Congress is taking from the budget of the US Military in the form of $32.1 billion from 2008-2013 in funding, to pay for the pork that they are dolling out to shiftless members of Congress to buy votes for a policy that will severely damage National Security, otherwise known as withdrawal from Iraq.

Many people seem to have forgotten what the American Military has been recently asked to do.  Here is the short list. 

  • Increase the US Army by 30,000 soldiers;
  • Fight a war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in many other diverse places around the world against our Islamic fascist enemies;
  • Keep the military technology ahead of the rest of the world to maintain a overwhelming conventional overmatch to competitor nations;
  • Secure the seas for safe passage of ships to provide economic security to the nation and the world;
  • Increase the Marine Corps and Army by almost 100,000 over the initial 30,000 mandated increase;
  • Have the best trained Military in the world;
  • Provide every technology we can to protect our fighting men and women; maintain air superiority; and fight two conventional regional wars simultaneously.   
This all takes money. 

While $538.5 billion dollars is a great deal of money to the average American, the military budget is still less than 4% of the GDP.  Compare that to the Cold War funding (between 13.1 and 4.6% of GDP) or WWII (about 40% of GDP).  The military doesn't even have the money to do the missions that it is asked to do now; yet Congress, somehow, sees fit to cut the military budget.  It is as if we are in wonderland, and Congress is painting the roses red in an effort to cover up their increasingly damaging policies.   

Gone are the days of the infamous $1500 toilet seats and $500 hammers.  The military budgetary process is very restrictive and regulated from within, and from without by the CBO, and GAO.  The money that the DoD asks for is required by the demands of Congress.   Not the other way around. 

When Congress says to the Army, "Cut your budget," the Army must decide which Congressionally-mandated program(s) that they have to cut.  There is no magical slush fund hidden away by the Military to cover such forced congressional cuts.  So what gets cut?

The Army and the Air Force have started with future combat systems.  In addition to the $825 million cuts in future systems over the last several years, the Army is being forced to cut $867 million from it's FCS (Future Combat Systems).  The Air Force is cutting back the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

And this is just for starters.

Most Americans don't know that the Army is operating on technology developed in the 1970s, under the Nixon Administration, cut under the Carter Administration, and reestablished, then fielded under the Reagan Administration.  Every time the US Army attempts to modernize, Congress finds a way to cut the future systems down or out of the budget.  As a result the Army is running on 1970s technology, built in the 80s.  Rumsfield came in and put a lot of effort into modernizing our military, but Congress at every turn blocked, and continues to block these attempts. 

They then cry foul when the 1980s equipment can't handle the rigors of 5 years of combat; then they cut the very modernization budget they are demanding each time it comes before them.               

The Congress is robbing from military's future readiness to pay for pork, rather than cut the enormous amounts of waste and fraud contained in entitlement programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and a plethora of other entitlement programs for congressional districts.  The 397-27 vote shows the Republicans are just as complicit as the Democrats in this travesty. 

A final question

Why is the Constitutionally-required mandate, funding the national defense, always the first to be cut back, while virtually every other governmental program grows unchecked?  The American people have to decide what their priories are: national defense or entitlements. 

You can't get blood from a rock.  We need to stop squeezing the military to pay for entitlements and pork.  If our elected leaders don't stop kicking the can down the road for others to fix, then a time will come when the military will, eventually break. 

When this time comes remember to look to the Congress not the DoD.  You'll have to remind yourself, because the media surely won't.

Our leaders have to look into the future, past the 50-meter targets, and start addressing the 1000-meter targets before they become huge, insurmountable problems.  We need leaders of vision looking ahead, not a Congress buying votes with pork. It's a dangerous world out there.    

Gerd Schroeder is a Major in the United States Army and a frequent contributor to American Thinker.  Major Schroeder has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. His views are his own.  He does not speak for the US Army or the Department of Defense.