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Federal Spending is the Problem: Defense is Not!

defense spendingby George Landrith

With a long history of federal overspending and the recent explosion of more federal debt, it is obvious that the federal budget must be cut back to a reasonable size. We need an intervention. But the Budget Control Act — which would force an “automatic sequester” of $500 billion in across-the-board defense spending cuts over the next decade, in addition to the $487 billion in defense cuts already scheduled — is not a good solution to our spending crisis. 

Defense is far from overfunded – it is only 16 percent of federal spending, down from 40 percent in the 1970s. Investment in research and modernization, the bulwark of our battlefield supremacy, is just a quarter of that. But these vital investments will bear the brunt of defense cuts if President Obama and the House and Senate do not agree on more sensible spending cuts.

Defense spending is not driving the deficit, and it would pose terrible consequences for our national security if liberals successfully perpetuate the myth that it is.

If no agreement is reached, the budget ax could fall on critical defense programs that protect our war fighters and make America safer. Research that gave us smart bombs, stealth technology, drones, technology that prevents improvised explosive devices from killing our soldiers, and electronics that prevent our enemies from tracking and targeting our warfighters, would be at risk. Even the replacement of aging and failing old equipment would grind to a halt. America would be less secure and our war fighters would be at greater risk and suffer greater casualties.

The problem with the defense sequester is not that it cuts federal spending too much. It is that it disproportionately slashes the military and allows Solyndra style boondoggles to continue while cutting vital and needed defense spending. The Budget Control Act was designed to impose a result so awful and so draconian that the President and Congress would feel forced to find an equal amount of budget cuts in other noncritical areas. In theory, these smarter cuts would then take the place of the draconian defense cuts.

The problem is the President and Congress have not come to an agreement on alternative spending cuts. While the House has passed a plan, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will not allow the Senate to even vote on the plan and the President now wants only tax increases and hopes to defer talks of balancing the budget for another year. History shows that promises of future spending cuts in exchange for immediate tax increases never materialize. In fact, spending increases more rapidly.

Given this history, Obama’s offer makes zero sense. And his expressed willingness to drive off the “fiscal cliff” unless Congress agrees to the tax increases he demands is irresponsible. It would harm our military’s ability to defend themselves and protect us — not to mention the economic harm it would do.

Trying to solve this problem with tax increases is like a college kid spending $800 a week on pizza and beer and calling home and trying to convince his parents that they haven’t given him enough money for school. Not surprisingly, mom and dad will point out that their child’s money problems are caused by spending too much, not because mom and dad were too cheap to provide adequate funds.

What would make sense is an agreement to: (1) continue with current tax rates given the weak economy — particularly since the tax increases Obama advocates will generate only enough money to fund the government for a few days; and (2) significantly and carefully cut government spending so that within the near future the federal budget is balanced.

In 2009, the first year President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were in charge, federal spending jumped to over 25% of GDP. As a result, federal deficits have exceed a  trillion dollars for four straight years. Since World War II, the federal budget has typically been about 20% of GDP. After four straight years of balanced budgets passed by the Republican Congress and signed by President Clinton, federal spending was 18% of GDP.

The President and Congress must cut spending. Period. But slashing defense is short sighted and dangerous. In 2001, after almost a decade of viewing defense as a low priority and extracting a “peace dividend” from the defense budget, we suffered a devastating attack on American soil. We must not repeat that mistake.

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George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. Mr. Landrith is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. In 1994 and 1996, Mr. Landrith was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District. You can follow George on Twitter @GLandrith.