The Dems Target Defense and Your Wallet Again

With a debt ceiling deal mandate to find $1.5 trillion in savings over the next decade, what have the Democrats on the Super Committee proposed?

The same old policies from the Democratic playbook: massive tax hikes and defense cuts.

Leaked Democratic proposals from the Super Committee include a $1.3-trillion tax hike on all Americans (including $800 billion resulting from letting the Bush tax hikes expire, which means higher taxes for the same "rich people" who create jobs) and $200 billion in cuts to defense spending, alongside $200 billion in cuts to domestic discretionary spending -- a broad category that includes everything from the Department of Education to the Department of Agriculture, the DHS, and the Department of Transportation.  They also propose $300 billion worth of new government spending -- which, of course, will be paid for with these defense cuts and tax hikes -- as well as double-counting the savings resulting from withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In other words, the DOD alone (a mere 18% of the federal budget) will have to bear fully half of the burden of discretionary spending cuts, while the other half will be spread among the other fourteen Cabinet departments and other discretionary agencies.  Practically, this means that civilian discretionary agencies will skate away with minor cuts.  And with the $300-billion addition, domestic discretionary spending will see a net increase of $100 billion.

One could think that $200 billion might not be a big deal.  But keep in mind that these cuts would be imposed on top of, not instead of, all the defense cuts already administered and scheduled:

  • In 2009, in his first months as president, Obama imposed large-scale budget cuts on the DOD and had Bob Gates close, for budgetary reasons, over thirty crucial weapon programs.
  • In 2010, further cuts followed, including the closure of the Next Generation Cruiser and EPX aircraft programs.
  • In January of this year, Obama ordered Gates to find an additional $78 billion in cuts to the defense budget topline over the next five fiscal years, and allowed Gates to keep an additional $100 billion of savings that Gates and his Pentagon team worked hard to find.
  • The Continuing Resolution signed into law in April cut base defense spending in real terms to $513 billion in FY2011 (as opposed to the oft-reported original DOD request of $549 billion). It also imposed many legal inflexibilities on the DOD, inherent with a CR, making DOD procurement and operations less efficient.
  • The debt ceiling deal requires further cuts to the "security spending" category worth $450 billion over the next decade. Although this category, by the deal's own definition, includes not just the DOD, but also the DHS, the DOS, the DOE, and the DOJ, Obama has dumped 100% of these cuts on the DOD, plus an additional $15 billion, adding up to $465 billion in real-term budget cuts over the next decade -- an average of $46.5 billion per year, down from FY2011 levels. And that's on top of all cuts already administered.

Any defense cuts the Super Committee might propose would be made on top of all these.  This would be the sixth round of defense cuts in just three years.

This, by the way, belies the oft-made claim that defense enjoys "protected status" and has so far been off the table.

Secretary Panetta and House Armed Services Committee members, including Chairman McKeon, have spoken about the damage further defense budget cuts would do to the military.  Panetta has stated that he and President Obama oppose any further cuts beyond the $465 billion amount already ordered.  The Marines' assistant commandant, Gen. Joseph Dunford, has already stated that additional budget cuts may shrink the Marine Corps to just 150,000 men, which he says would not be enough to fight even one large-scale war or deter potential adversaries.

But perhaps most troubling is the "logic" -- visible in the leaked Democratic proposals and recent public discourse -- that "defense must be on the table and must be cut" -- in other words, the unstated but clearly visible principle that defense is just another line item in the federal budget, like farm subsidies and loan guarantees to Solyndra.  That's relatively the kindest way defense has been treated the last 22 years.

Accepting this "logic" allows politicians to ignore the unique, elevated way the Constitution emphasizes defense and the constitutional obligation to provide for a strong military, as well as the admonition of President Washington.

This dismissal by politicians is insulting to the honorable U.S. military, and it goes against the Constitution and against common sense.  Prudence would require that the most important duty of the government -- defending the country -- be funded first and fully, albeit very efficiently and with congressional oversight, and only then could other constitutional functions of the federal government be funded.  But that's not the way Washington works these days.

Right now, defense is the feds' last concern, not the first.

This is unacceptable.  Furthermore, the defense budget's topline and composition -- and consequently, the military's force structure -- should be determined solely by America's defense needs (which, in turn, are determined by the threats the U.S. is facing in the world), not by arbitrary budget constrains of any kind.  Those who wish to reduce defense spending must first say what part of the defense budget (agency, capability, weapon program, base, operation, military unit, or other expenditure) the nation can do without and why -- and then that claim must be carefully analyzed.

Yet the debt ceiling deal whacks, and the Dems on the Super Committee want to further slash, defense spending (leading to steep reductions of its force structure, modernization programs, O&M programs, and personnel) solely due to pure budgetary constraints.

Keep in mind that for all the defense cuts the Super Committee Dems and their colleagues (the Gang of Six, Sen. Coburn, and the Bowles-Simpson Commission) have proposed, none of their "deficit reduction" proposals comes even close to balancing the budget.  Not even one.  Even Coburn's proposal would reduce the annual budget deficit by only $900 billion per year.

By contrast, the conservative Republican Study Committee has proposed a plan to balance the budget by FY2020 without cutting defense at all.  It already exists as legislation in Congress and has received praise from numerous fiscally conservative organizations.  The Heritage Foundation, for its part, has proposed its own balanced budget plan, again without defense cuts.  The Foundation has concurrently done an exhaustive study of the threats facing America and, consequently, the nation's defense needs and the detailed force structure and defense programs required to protect the country.

The Dems' defense cut proposals must be flatly rejected.  Hopefully, they will be, because by proposing both defense cuts and tax hikes, the Dems are likely to anger both fiscal and defense conservatives, thus perhaps making it possible for these groups to unite against them.

That's exactly what needs to happen.