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Mr. President – Bring Some “Budget Discipline” to the Pentagon

January 28, 2010

Mr. President, Thank you for your speech last night.  You believe in us – in the decency and resiliency of the American people.  I get that, and I appreciate it.

It’s been a tough year, no doubt about it.  I’m glad that you still see a way forward  that will get us out of the mess we’re in:  passing financial reform, funding research innovation, increasing exports, improving schools and providing scholarships, and continuing the supports for mortgages and health insurance reform.  Those are all good – I wish you and your administration all the best with these goals.

You talked about the mounting federal debt, pointing to the two wars and the tax credits for the wealthy that were not paid for by taxes or spending cuts in other areas.  You talked about health care costs continuing to rise, and the pressures those costs impose on the federal budget – not to mention our own family budgets!

Then you presented your solution – one that has nothing to do with what caused the problem:  You propose a freeze on domestic discretionary spending for the next three years.

You want to freeze one small slice –about 1/8 of all federal spending.  This is the slice that pays for transportation programs (many of them just like the one you are celebrating in Florida today), education (like the improvements you want to see in elementary schools and colleges), programs for homeless people (and there are many  more these days, as I’m sure you know), community clinics and public health programs (like the centers that provide the H1N1 vaccine.)  Domestic discretionary programs include research for innovation and health care (like the advances in cancer treatment that you celebrated last night).  These programs support economic development in the hardest-hit rural and urban communities.  Most of these social and economic development programs have been overwhelmed by the new and deeper needs created by the recession.

So that’s the funding you want to freeze?  That’s where we should “tighten our belts?”

What about the Pentagon, Mr. President?  The Pentagon is a huge bureaucracy with a bigger discretionary budget than any other agency.  It takes up more than half of all discretionary spending, and is slated to grow by billions of dollars over the next ten years.

If the Pentagon budget was crafted carefully to meet this country’s actual needs for international security, your decision to protect it from scrutiny would be understandable.  But the bloat in the Pentagon’s budget has little to do with the needs of our troops overseas, or with the cost of two very expensive wars, or even with a 21st century security mission.  The Pentagon budget is simply out of control, growing to accommodate “legacy” weapons (weapons that some leaders at the Pentagon wish the U.S. might have had during World War II, but that are not at all needed to fight Al Queda), to allow for sibling rivalry among the service branches (if they get a new submarine, then we want a new fighter jet!), and to “work with” the industry lobbyists (Boeing, Lockheed Martin) that felt the sharp side of your tongue last night.  Carl Conetta at the Project on Defense Alternatives released an analysis just last week of the $2 trillion surge in U.S. defense spending over the last twenty years (An Undisciplined Defense).  This $2 trillion surge is definitely worth a look as a place to “tighten our belts.”  Your plans for the next seven years – to spend a total of $5 trillion more on defense – will bring us deeper into debt.

Unlike all the other agencies that struggle to keep up with huge demands, and are required (rightly) by your administration to prove and document, year after year, their efficiency and effectiveness, the Pentagon does none of that.  The Pentagon has never completed a successful audit, and never has to face the truly tough questions that such an overstuffed bureaucracy should have to face – either in Congress or by your administration.

And so, Mr. President, I urge you to put Pentagon spending on the table with all other discretionary spending.  Let the Pentagon show that it has found the most effective ways to promote peace in the world, that it has a clear mission, that it does not purchase expensive weapons systems that don’t fit with its mission, that it does not waste or misplace taxpayer dollars, and that it has opened its books to the scrutiny required of all other U.S. agencies.   With that move, Mr. President, taxpayers could save some serious money.

  1. January 28, 2010 8:58 pm

    This commentary speaks for me, too. Is the Pentagon to continue to operate above the people’s right to know? I was born in 1933, and I cannot recall a time when that was not true. Typical Americans love their military might and their wars toward which nearly all of the military’s activities point. Some of us have a very different picture of patriotism. We continue to witness to that conceptualization.

  2. JWaters permalink
    January 28, 2010 9:11 pm

    Ask the president to demand the Pentagon budget for 2010-11 be presented, with specifics for new and repeat items, for review by the president before discussion with members of Congress responsible for approving it. He should not be expected to accept a clearly bloated budget because the Pentagon has had no governance for many years. Who are the cowards here! We’ve all been angered at some of the ridiculuous thousand dollar items worth less than $50 at Home Depot. Get real.

  3. Ed Snyder permalink
    January 29, 2010 11:08 am

    Thanks, Ruth for telling like it is.

    The U.S. is spending for “defense” almost as much as all the rest of the countries in the world combined. For what? inter service rivalry, cold war relics, more nuclear weapons we’re trying to get rid of, stuff that is completely irrelevant to current threats from small groups of extremists. The Pentagon’s own auditors have admitted they can’t account for where all the money goes–imagine a billion dollars, if you can, and then try to figure out where and how it is spent in less than 24 hours by the Pentagon every day of the year.

    While Pres. Obama’s adherence to the just war doctrine is understandable if regrettable, his acceptance of the Bush, Gates, etc. support for ever expanding Pentagon budgets is deeply disappointing and demoralizing.

  4. Francis Probst permalink
    February 3, 2010 11:23 am

    We budget discipline so badly! Frank

  5. February 4, 2010 8:00 pm

    Dear Ruth Flower, Thanks for your remarks. I have just discovered the remarkable research of Rick Rozoff on Stop NATO. The expansion of NATO and of the missile defense (boondoggle) network from Scandinavia to Japan provocatively surrounds Russia and China. It seems to me that the Bush-Obama Presidency, with the support of the Pentagon and Secretary Clinton, are back to the old containment theories of the Cold War, which they would like to renew. Rick Rozoff and Stop NATO are on the leading edge, as far as I am concerned.
    With all best wishes, Peter G Cohen, Santa Barbara


  1. Cut the Pentagon, Not Real Security « Coreys Views
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