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When a Cut is Not a Cut

January 11, 2011

In a recent conversation about dolls and GI Joes that some of us remembered from our youth (and perhaps more recent times, but no one was owning up), we came upon the subject of that one doll who seemed to have an infinite amount of hair.  You could “cut” her hair and give her a new “look,” and then you’d turn a magic key (hidden somewhere out of sight) and the doll’s hair would magically “grow” again.

How like our U.S. military budget, I thought.  (I can’t help it – I think things like that!)

After a flurry of reports – from the President’s deficit commission and from think-tanks across the political spectrum – showing how the Pentagon budget could and should be cut by about $300 to $450 billion over the next five years, some members of Congress seem to have lost track of the concept.  In the House, Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan and others call for “across the board cuts” – across all agencies, that is, except the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.   Even though Pentagon spending has increased by 72% in the last ten years (above inflation), taking a little off the top is not even to be considered.

Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the leaders of the congressional committees that decide about the size and shape of the Pentagon Budget:  House and Senate Armed Services Committees and House and Senate Defense Appropriations Committees.  Gates presented his plan to cut about $100 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over the five years from 2012 to 2016.  The “cut” in his plan wouldn’t come from actual spending levels – it would come from the projections that were included in last year’s budget plan for the “out-years” — 2012 and beyond.  So Gates is proposing to scale back the wish list by considerably less than the President’s deficit commission recommended.

According to Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives, one of the chief researchers for the report “Debt, Deficits and Defense: a Way Forward,” Secretary Gates’ plan for 2012 is to cut $12 billion from this “wish list.”  That “cut” is so small that it would actually represent an increase in the Pentagon’s base budget compared to this year’s base budget.  The base Pentagon budget proposed for FY 2011 was $549 billion;  for FY 2012, this proposal would result in a base budget of $554 billion (not counting war supplementals for either year.)

Secretary Gates has included some good ideas in his proposal – such as modestly cutting the size of the Army and Marines by 2015.  He has also included some ideas – good or not – that Congress is likely to resist, such as charging a more realistic premium for the Pentagon’s health insurance plan, or ending the production of the Marine Corp’s Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  If Congress rejects these proposals, Secretary Gates is in a position to complain that he certainly tried to save money.

If the Congress is serious about saving money – and there is money to be saved – it should look first at what this nation needs, and what it does not need.  Our national investments in job creation, education, and ending poverty have rarely been called “bloated” or unnecessary.  The Department of Health and Human Services does not have a “base budget,” with extra money available if it actually has to deliver health or human services.   The Department of Housing and Urban Development is not permitted to let contracts on a “cost plus basis” – offering the contractor whatever the contractor feels is necessary to get the job done – eventually.  FHA loans don’t go to homes that fail to meet standards — and now, even local schools are held to federal performance standards at the risk of losing federal assistance to support teacher’s aides and school lunches.  But weapons manufacturers can continue to provide weapons and transports that don’t work, and U.S. taxpayers just send more money their way.

There are places to save real money.  One large place to look is in that five-sided building only a stone’s throw across the Potomac from Congress.

  1. Emily permalink
    January 11, 2011 5:57 pm

    The writer fails to mention what the miltary–and Gates–see as the biggest cut–TRADOC. Removing one entire command should cut the military bureaucracy immensely and produce immense future cost savings.

  2. January 11, 2011 5:58 pm

    Unfortunately, the war machine, made up of the Pentagon, it’s contractors, and various think tanks are well entrenched in congressional and executive branch offices and wallets. I think it’s safe to say they have every intention in continuing the expansion of their budget and their presence throughout the world wherever possible with little concern about the ethics of what they are doing or the effects of their actions abroad and at home (and as relates to this article – although they might talk about modest accommodations, I think it has been demonstrated that they have no compunction about misleading or lying about their intentions).

    It’s going to take major effort and focus on part of the citizens to get in control of that scenario.

    I would say that things are so far out of hand with the military and the Federal Reserve and the economy that without divine intervention our time is running out.

    I’m praying. Any other thoughts about how to rein the military in? Surely God would like to influence this situation. Who out there has a God inspired idea about this?

  3. Emily permalink
    January 13, 2011 4:42 pm

    The “military” doesn’t need to be reined in–everyone I have read in teh military feels defense spending should be cut.
    Defense contractors and legislators are not the same as the military. They have jobs at stake–I think that’s part of the reason Gates chose to slash TRADOC–it’s a huge cut, but not as many people will be opposed to its cutting.

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