By Mary Kate Cary |
Federal spending must be reduced alongside America's growing debt. How and where to cut should be the focus of an honest, national conversation. It should begin by discussing the federal agency that has borne the disproportionate share of all cuts: the U.S. military (which comprises just 19 percent of the budget and dropping). Next up, note that a full two thirds of the entire federal budget is devoted to Big 3 entitlement spending. This spending is on autopilot every year and was untouched in the latest debt ceiling despite the fact that even eliminating the defense budget in its entirety would not relieve explosive spending and debt burdens. Indeed, interest on the debt is set to overtake defense spending sometime in the next five years.
The military spending cuts that began when President Obama took office--with an eager partner in Congress--are beginning to take their toll and weaken America's armed forces before additional defense cuts kick in next January. These same cuts have not meaningfully reduced the debt, but they have absolutely reduced America's security and military readiness. Across all of the services, long-standing readiness problems are worsening and breakdowns are happening more frequently. Wear and tear is weakening defense capabilities as the military's major platforms age after high wartime usage rates and a lack of major recapitalization since the 1980s.
The Pentagon has already sacrificed close to a trillion dollars to date in supposed debt reduction efforts, however, the president has indicated these cuts should now be diverted to domestic pet projects like basic research and infrastructure. If cuts of this magnitude were underway at any other federal agency, interest groups would be up in arms. Unless Congress acts, current law would take roughly another $500 billion from the military's budget, bringing total cuts to $1.5 trillion. But those additional whacks at defense won't be based on sound planning and genuine tradeoffs; merely on a gridlocked Congress that can't get spending under control in the rest of the federal budget.
Fortunately, there is a growing bipartisan consensus that the $500 billion sequestration cannot stand because of the irreparable harm it would cause to our national defense. Lost in the discussion is the damage already inflicted by the current budget cuts.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said if sequestration stands, "we wouldn't be the global power that we know ourselves to be today." He's right.
About Mackenzie Eaglen Resident Fellow at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute
Chris Van Hollen Member of the United States House of Representatives
Benjamin H. Friedman Research Fellow in Defense and Homeland Security Studies at the Cato Institute
Lawrence J. Korb Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress