Liberals have been arguing for years that the bloated defense budget is sorely in need to reduction. Whenever they point out the obvious, they are accused of being weak on defense or trying to gut the dollars necessary to fund our military. It never seems to matter how many times the Pentagon itself insists that they don’t need expensive equipment like the $436 million 70-ton Abrams tanks, the $2.5 billion Global Hawk Block 30 drone program, or the $400 million C-27J Spartan cargo aircraft, as long as our Congress (both Republican and Democratic) members believe that a district needs the income that comes from building this unnecessary equipment. What if the Pentagon thinks they have too many military bases, which they do, and they could save money by closing some of them? Don’t bet on it. They are barred by Congress from doing an inventory of surplus bases, posts, piers, hangars, and runways. Once again, is it solely the Republicans who are to blame for the military’s inability to close unnecessary bases? No, Democratic Congress members are right there with them, such as Carl Levin (D-MI) who said, “I would urge our constituents not to start lawyering up and hiring consultants” to keep their local military base, “because it’s got a long, long way to go before Congress approves another BRAC round.” BRAC stands for Base Realignment and Closure commissions, the mechanism by which the military decides which bases it needs to close. Congress members, including Democrats, have said that BRAC closures cost too much up front, but this was based on the last round of closures. Two previous rounds of closures were much more cost efficient, and could serve as models for the next round. Furthermore, the military counter-argues that this initial investment begins to result in savings of billions of dollars after just a few years.
At any rate, the historical defense of defense spending by conservatives took a new turn last week when two conservative organizations released a report finding that there was at least $1.8 trillion in savings to be had in the defense budget. According to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the fiscally conservative groups, R Street Institute and National Taxpayers Union, released this report, “Defending America, Defending Taxpayers,” in which they detailed the savings they were able to find when they went through the Pentagon’s budget. The report includes 100 recommendations for cuts, parsing out the difference between what their groups called, “necessary programs” and “budgetary fat.” The report’s recommendations are divided into three sections: weapons systems, personnel and compensation, and programs and processes. From weapons systems, they found a savings of $385.8 billion, from personnel and compensation, a savings of $618.6 billion, and from programs and processes, $878.5 billion.
Part of American lore are stories of the Pentagon paying $800 for hammers, $640 for toilet seats, etc. These two conservatives groups that authored the new report were once again able to find the Pentagon paying outrageously high amounts for everything from screws to tanks. They called the projects the Pentagon has funded like the reaction of babies to robots. They blame this on the fact that the military does not have to compete with any institutions to provide for the country’s defense. A better explanation is that large donors to our Congress members receive an unacknowledged quid pro quo as they sign no-bid contracts to provide goods and services at vastly marked-up rates.
The recommendations that the two conservatives organizations forwarded actually match well with those released by Taxpayers for Common Sense and POGO itself (two organizations that are considered more non-partisan and independent) in their report, “Spending Even Less, Spending Even Smarter.” Some of the recommendations from the POGO/TCS report include:
1) Less use of private contractors (savings of $373 billion)
2) Replace B and C models of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with F/A-18E/F Super Hornets ($61.7 billion)
3) Reduce or eliminate ground-based missile defense systems ($6 billion)
Not only were these recommendations found in the conservatives’ report, but others including:
1) Replacing the costly V-22 Osprey aircraft with MH-60 and CH-53 helicopters for a savings of $17 over 10 years
2) Consolidating DoD grocery stores and retail stores could result in savings of $9 billion over the next 10 years
3) Passing the legislation proposed by the bipartisan team of Tom Colburn (R-OK) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) called, “Audit the Pentagon.” This legislation would be a first step toward putting transparency into the defense budget and allowing the public to see places for savings and instances of waste.
The truth is there is very little on which liberals would find common ground with either the R Street Institute or the National Taxpayers Union. Their platform of fiscal conservatism mocks Keynesian theory, proven time and again to be supported by the weight of the evidence. They hang their hats on the free market, clinging to the quaint idea that a) U.S. markets can operate freely and still avoid corruption without regulation, and b) markets and privatization can resolve all of the country’s problems. If they designed our traffic system, they’d take out all the traffic lights and stop signs, eliminate policing, and then say the free transportation system would function better than any other system.
The reason so many legislators are opposed to the cuts in defense spending that have been identified by conservative, independent, and liberal organizations is that these cuts often mean that people will lose jobs, jobs as defense contractors, jobs as civilian employees of the military, jobs building military equipment. This is a very real concern. The conservative think tanks want to make the spending cuts, cut taxes (often to the wealthy and corporations), and continue their colossally failed trickle-down theory. Liberals could develop a mixture of jobs programs and tax cuts that would not devastate congressional districts that rely on defense spending, while also steering these huge sums of money into more productive avenues of society such as education, infrastructure, or green energy. There won’t be agreement on how to deal with the windfall that comes from cutting the defense budget. However, when it comes to identifying places to save in government spending, both liberals and fiscal conservatives can get on the same page with regard to the $1.8 trillion in potential savings.