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Barney Frank, Ron Paul and 55 others advocate for defense cuts

Later today, Rep. Barney Frank, Rep. Ron Paul and 55 congressional co-signers are sending a letter to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform advocating defense cuts. The letter is good not just on cuts, but on theory: It's as much about where we can save money as why we don't need to spend the money. Here's the core of it, with my emphases:

The Department of Defense currently takes up almost 56% of all discretionary federal spending, and accounts for nearly 65% of the increase in annual discretionary spending levels since 2001. Much of this increase, of course, is attributable to direct war costs, but nearly 37% of discretionary spending growth falls under the “base” or “peacetime” military budget. Applying the adage that it is necessary to “go where the money is” requires that rigorous scrutiny be applied to military spending. We believe that such an analysis will show that substantial spending cuts can be made without threatening our national security, without cutting essential funds for fighting terrorism, and without shirking our obligations as a nation to our brave troops currently in the field, our veterans, and our military retirees.

Much of these potential savings can be realized if we are willing to make an honest examination of the cost, benefit, and rationale of the extensive U.S. military commitment overseas, which in large part remains a legacy of policy decisions made in the immediate aftermath of World War II and during the Cold War. Years after the Soviet threat has disappeared, we continue to provide European and Asian nations with military protection through our nuclear umbrella and the troops stationed in our overseas military bases. Given the relative wealth of these countries, we should examine the extent of this burden that we continue to shoulder on our own dime.

We also think that significant savings can be found if we subject to similar scrutiny strategic choices that have led to the retention and continued development of Cold War-era weapons systems and initiatives such as missile defense. While the Soviet Union and its allies nearly matched the West’s level of military expenditure during the Cold War, no other nation today remotely approaches the 44% share of worldwide military spending assumed by the United States. China, for instance, spends barely one-fifth as much on military power as the United States. Instead of protecting us against a clear and determined foe and enemy, Defense Department planning and strategic objectives now focus on stemming the emergence of new threats by maintaining a vast range of global commitments on all continents and oceans. We believe that such commitments need to be scaled back.

Additionally, we believe that significant savings can be realized through reforming the process by which the Pentagon engages in weapons research, development and procurement, manages its resources, and provides support services. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has speculated that waste and mismanagement accounted for at least 5% of the Pentagon budget annually, and despite a long history of calls for reform from outside the Pentagon, and actual reform initiatives within it, it is clear that much more remains to be done.

That last bit is important: Because it's politically difficult to cut the defense budget, a lot of waste and redundancy builds up. Budget areas that are easier to cut -- think public health, or transportation -- are often leaner, as legislators looking to fund their priorities cut the obviously wasteful programs in those sectors long ago.

Anyway, you can download the full Frank-Paul letter here, and a longer report from the Sustainable Defense Task Force here.

By Ezra Klein  | October 13, 2010; 10:32 AM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Comments

A lot of the same people who say we can't cut outdated and obsolete military programs because that would "cost so many local jobs" are the same folks saying we should cut public employee positions or defer infrastructure projects because we don't want the taxpayers to support all those lazy public employees and unionized construction workers. The argument is never about the value of the project, just the value of the worker.

Posted by: srm4m | October 13, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

That would be the Frank-PAUL letter. In fact, Ron Paul is the ONLY Republican out of the 55.

I guess people like Paul Ryan don't mind trillions of dollars in debt if it means we can continue to project imperial influence all over the world!

Posted by: Tractarian | October 13, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Is "Frank-Ryan" a typo? Paul Ryan isn't listed as one of the co-signers.

Posted by: mikebike | October 13, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

agreed that this needs to be taken as seriously as cuts to Medicare and/or raising the retirement age for Social Security. Will it, we'll see.

Posted by: visionbrkr | October 13, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

The letter points out some good ideas, but I disagree with its main thrust: saving money without messing with war funding. Our vast, ongoing presence in Iraq (50k troops) and Afghanistan (100k troops) is the most obvious source of huge savings. Wind down US involvement in those two wars once and for all, and pretty soon you're talking big money. Like 150 billion a year.

Posted by: Jasper999 | October 13, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

As a fiscal conservative I agree that defense spending must be cut.

What will be difficult is explaining to the members of Congress that it includes projects and people who reside in your districts, whether you are Democratic or a Republican. This became evident when Secretary of Defense Gates proposed closing programs in Northern Virginia recently and Democratic representatives protested.

To get the deficit under control it will be necessary for spending cuts and program modifications in every area including entitlements and hopefully the demagogues on both sides of the aisle will be restrained unlike what we recently saw in the area of Social Security!

Posted by: mwhoke | October 13, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Reduced profits for big business in this proposal, so it's fate is obvious.

Posted by: lauren2010 | October 13, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Twenty years ago, the world's second largest economy was an economic competitor in decline but an ally.

Today, the world's second largest economy is an economic competitor, growing at a robust rate, and is not a military ally.

Something to keep in mind amid the calls for cuts in the defense budget.

Posted by: tuber | October 13, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

"While the Soviet Union and its allies nearly matched the West’s level of military expenditure during the Cold War, no other nation today remotely approaches the 44% share of worldwide military spending assumed by the United States. China, for instance, spends barely one-fifth as much on military power as the United States."

I'm not sure this is entirely correct.

The Department of Defense estimates that China spent $150 billion on its military in 2009, or 3.0% of 2009 GDP. That is about 1/5 of U.S. levels.

http://www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/2010_CMPR_Final.pdf

But a dollar goes a lot further in China than in the U.S. The purchasing power partiy multiplier is 1.78 (China GDP PPP / China GDP dollar exchange rate). That seems low (lots of things you can buy in China seem far cheaper), but we'll accept it. Applying that multiplier and Chinese defense spending is at $267 billion.

The DoD's spending estimate might be too high, but just as likely the PPP multiplier might be too low.

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html

Now, a good chunk of U.S. spending is being blown on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 'Base' spending plus nukes in the U.S. was about $536 billion in 2009.

http://www.armscontrolcenter.org/policy/securityspending/articles/022609_fy10_topline_growth_decade/

So the appropriate percentage appears to be more like 50% rather than 20%.

Of course, this doesn't mean we shouldn't cut the defense budget. While Mexico has been a bit of a basket case lately, our borders require far less in terms of defense than China's. There are no other serious militaries in the Americas - China has at least four (India, Russia, Japan) right on the border.

We are spending quite a bit in order to ensure we can beat up every other country (and we do occasionally go around cracking skulls). Most of this spending is a waste. China isn't going to come bomb us just 'cause it has an equivalent sized defense budget, or even one twice as large.

As long as we maintain a credible defense (e.g. one strong enough to chew up the largest expeditionary force we can be expected to face) and mind our own business we'll be fine.

Posted by: justin84 | October 13, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Justin84
Thank you for some facts.
However, your trust of China is a "bit" naive. A mega-nation that has a horrendous human rights record, especially against Christians, and is still communist should not be trusted. Any nation as materialistic as China that has little moral integrity is a potential world order game-changer by whatever means they could use.
This is NOT the time to reduce the US physical presence around the world.
This proposal is insane at this time, in this world.

Posted by: EyeOnPolitics | October 13, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Justin84
Thank you for some facts.
However, your trust of China is a "bit" naive. A mega-nation that has a horrendous human rights record, especially against Christians, and is still communist should not be trusted. Any nation as materialistic as China that has little moral integrity is a potential world order game-changer by whatever means they could use.
This is NOT the time to reduce the US physical presence around the world.
This proposal is insane at this time, in this world.

Posted by: EyeOnPolitics | October 13, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

"Barney Frank, Ron Paul and 55 others advocate for defense cuts!"

Tanks for your efforts boys....

Posted by: AgaBey | October 13, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

The Sustainable Defense Task Force report has been bouncing around for a little while, and has some good stuff in it - it points out specific areas where our money isn't being spent as well as it could, rather than calling for an across-the-board cut.

It's featured prominently in the proposal found at www.JobsNowCutsLater.com. We could save a good chunk of money just by instituting a small handful of the recommended cuts.

Posted by: FormerSwingVoter | October 13, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Right before an election? Does anyone else think that's, um, not great timing?

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | October 13, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

"Justin84
Thank you for some facts.
However, your trust of China is a "bit" naive. A mega-nation that has a horrendous human rights record, especially against Christians, and is still communist should not be trusted. Any nation as materialistic as China that has little moral integrity is a potential world order game-changer by whatever means they could use.
This is NOT the time to reduce the US physical presence around the world.
This proposal is insane at this time, in this world. "

A few comments:

Some of these criticisms could be directed right back at the U.S.

The U.S. is itself a mega nation in its own right, and has a record of violating human rights - either directly or by proxy - when the U.S. government feels it is in its interest to do so. Consider torture, Guantanamo, launching unnecessary wars, support of foreign despots, etc. The U.S. government also commits various offenses against the liberties of American citizens, though I'll admit China can often be worse in this regard.

The U.S. is a pretty materialistic nation as well, and I'm not sure our leaders exemplify intergrity.

While China is still ruled by the "Communist Party", these are hardly dyed in the wool communists. China is the second largest economy in the world because it has embraced more and more free market principles. They even allow private capitalists to join the communist party. China retains an authoritarian one party government, but it seems more corporatist than communist.

At present time, I believe we are already unable to decisively defeat China on their own territory.

Unless something changes radically, China will have a large economy than the U.S. - and a larger military budget if it wants one - before too long. If China's income per person reaches even one half of America's, it's GDP will be more than twice as large.

As time goes on, we will likely be forced to cede military leadership to China, or bankrupt ourselves trying to maintain it.

I'm not all that worried if China wants to be top dog. They can run around and get into all sorts of trouble if thats what they like.

And of course, I'm not recommending a total disband of the military.

Rather, I advocate cutting spending sharply now, and adopting a defensive posture that is sustainable in the long term. We don't need to be able to dominate the world - only to credibly deter a potential aggressor.

I don't so much as trust China but trust that if you are armed and leave others well enough alone you don't get into many fights.

Posted by: justin84 | October 13, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I am India's expert in strategic defence and the father of India's strategic program, including the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan means the coast-to-coast destruction of the U.S. by India; see my blog titled 'Nuclear Supremacy For India Over U.S.' which can be found by a Yahoo search with the title.
Russia and the U.S. are allies.

Posted by: SatishChandra | October 13, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Don't you mean the Frank-Paul letter ... oh I see you fixed it.

Ron Paul has been advocating foreign non-interventionism policy for years; he could care less if its an election year!!!!

Posted by: kathie12345 | October 13, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

SatishChandra - although the US invasion of Afghanistan is hurting the US financially and militarily at a time where Americans are suffering from the costs of wars ... its the greedy US companies outsourcing to India that will put the final nail in the US coffins .... I mean coffers!!!

Posted by: kathie12345 | October 13, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I pity anyone who takes their political ques from a vagina doctor, and a blubbering, slobbering fool who cannot even speak properly

Posted by: Tyler520 | October 13, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

At 125 billion dollars per year, overseas defense spending only costs 3% of the nation's budget - we spend nearly as much (113 billion) every year to cover the cost of illegal aliens, which is more than we spend on Education. Total Defense spending is less that nearly all social services.

Furthermore, people like Bawhney Fwank and Ron Paul (who has drafted 3 dozen high-profile pork spending bills, then voted against them, but received the pork money anyway) hijack defense spending bills by introducing them with billions in bogus pork spending

Posted by: Tyler520 | October 13, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Tyler520 ad hominen attack aside...I can see how no budget would ever get reduced using your it's-all-relative logic.

...don't cut defense spending because that "liberal" Social Security is greater, don't cut that "boondoggle" NASA spending because that "politically-popular" Dept. of Agriculture is greater....1 % cut here, 2% increase there.

I pity anyone putting full faith in the US Government to manage something as complex as an economy.

Republican & Democrat politicians over-promising national welfare have turned a gold coin into stainless steel.

Posted by: jhope432 | October 15, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

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