There's No Such Thing as "Non-Defense Discretionary Spending"
My friend Chris Hayes likes to say that "non-defense discretionary spending" is the most pernicious phrase in Washington. It means, essentially, that there's spending, which we can cut, and then there's defense spending, which we cannot cut, and shouldn't even talk about. Defense spending, however, accounts for about 20 percent of federal dollars. Add in the wars of the past few years and it's accounted for even more than that. Saying you can't touch defense spending is like going on a diet but letting the milk industry say that you can't cut back on dairy. All of which came to mind when I read this post from Matt Yglesias:
Chris Preble had a good post up on the Cato blog yesterday praising Barack Obama’s veto threat over the F-22 issue. I continue to hope that folks will stay engaged with this question, because I think it’s more important than it first appears. I know that a lot of people, both on the progressive left and the libertarian right, would like to see a more ambitious cutback of the American defense posture than what you see in this initial budget proposal. But viewed in that light I think you need to see the issue on the table right now as whether or not the political system can impose any discipline on the military-industrial complex at all. If it can, then bigger change may be possible in the future. If it can’t, then it can’t.
Cutting defense spending is frequently framed as, well, a defense issue. And in some ways, it is. But it's also an economic issue. Resources are scarce. The country has a lot of priorities. A fighter jet shouldn't simply be evaluated on whether it is a good investment for the United States military, but whether it is a good investment for the United States. There aren't "defense dollars" and then "non-defense dollars." There are only dollars, and we need to figure out how best to use them.
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