Friday, February 05, 2010

Cutting the deficit: the military budget must also be on the line

Would Jesus be more likely to condemn someone who failed to support the troops, or somebody who failed to support the poor? Based on his recorded words and actions, it would almost certainly be the latter.

President Obama's new budget does remarkably well on key support programs such as TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families), Food Stamps and Medicaid. It also does well on education, which is a key investment in our society's future. But, it exempts the military budget from cuts.

Now, the U.S. is at war. A not-unreasonably case can be made that the war in Afghanistan has a just cause. But, for all the waste and inefficiency in the health sector, the military is as as bad or worse. The MV-22 Osprey. The second engine (!) for the Joint Strike Fighter. The F-22. The list of programs that have vastly exceeded budget is almost endless. Not subjecting the military budget to fiscal discipline is an open invitation to waste - the President might as well wright a blank check.

The military budget is about 4.7% of GDP in FY 2010. This compares very aggressively to other OECD nations and in fact to the rest of the world.

Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, wrote the following in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine:

What all these potential adversaries—from terrorist cells to rogue nations to rising powers—have in common is that they have learned that it is unwise to confront the United States directly on conventional military terms. The United States cannot take its current dominance for granted and needs to invest in the programs, platforms, and personnel that will ensure that dominance's persistence. But it is also important to keep some perspective. As much as the U.S. Navy has shrunk since the end of the Cold War, for example, in terms of tonnage, its battle fleet is still larger than the next 13 navies combined—and 11 of those 13 navies are U.S. allies or partners.

It is well past time to subject the military budget to spending discipline. The Center for American Progress has an article on the subject here; the lead author, Lawrence Korb, was a former Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan. Readers may also wish to consider signing this petition by Sojourners Magazine.

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