Why is Obama cutting the Pentagon's budget?
President Obama isn't very serious about debt reduction, as we saw from his budget proposal. But he is quite determined to slash the Pentagon's budget. Jamie Fly and John Noonan of the Foreign Policy Initiative write in Politico today:
In advance of the budget's release, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced significant cuts to Pentagon programs, totaling $78 billion over five years. The cuts are deep and far-reaching and will jeopardize the U.S.'s ability to fight and win wars.
Several critical weapon systems, believed safe after surviving a round of cuts in 2009, will now be defunded -- forcing the services to develop less desirable options for force modernization already long overdue.
Most concerning, however, is a proposal to significantly decrease Army and Marine Corps end strength by tens of thousands of troops. Gates stated that by the end of 2015, the Army could be expected to sacrifice up to a full fighting division worth of soldiers, while the smaller Marine Corps would have to slash up to three brigades -- roughly 15,000 troops
Moreover, this comes on top of substantial cuts that Gates has already coughed up:
He canceled 20 major systems in 2009 totaling $300 billion -- including important programs such as the F-22 Raptor and the Army's Future Combat Systems. Other vital replacement systems, such as the Navy's CG(X) cruiser and the LCC Command Ship, were delayed or targeted for cancellation by last year's Quadrennial Defense Review.
In addition, Gates announced last year an effort to identify $100 billion of efficiencies in the Pentagon that could be reinvested in key modernization programs. While other federal agencies continue to run up spending and add to the deficit, Gates has worked intensively --- and successfully -- to clean up the Defense Department.
So why did the White House demand another round of Pentagon slashing? It certainly isn't in service of a serious debt reduction scheme. It's to allow Obama to keep spending with abandon on the domestic side on projects that are deeply flawed. For example, $53 billion of those cuts are being spent by the administration's light rail boondoggle. The Post's Robert Samuelson explains, "The administration would pay states $53 billion to build rail networks that would then lose money -- lots -- thereby aggravating the budget squeezes of the states or federal government, depending on which covered the deficits."
Moreover, it's a really bad idea:
High-speed rail would definitely be big. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has estimated that the administration's ultimate goal -- bringing high-speed rail to 80 percent of the population -- could cost $500 billion over 25 years. For this stupendous sum, there would be scant public benefits. Precisely the opposite. Rail subsidies would threaten funding for more pressing public needs: schools, police, defense. . . .
The reasons passenger rail service doesn't work in America are well-known: Interstate highways shorten many trip times; suburbanization has fragmented destination points; air travel is quicker and more flexible for long distances (if fewer people fly from Denver to Los Angeles and more go to Houston, flight schedules simply adjust). Against history and logic is the imagery of high-speed rail as "green" and a cutting-edge technology.
It's a triumph of fancy over fact. . . . What's disheartening about the Obama administration's embrace of high-speed rail is that it ignores history, evidence and logic. The case against it is overwhelming. The case in favor rests on fashionable platitudes. High-speed rail is not an "investment in the future"; it's mostly a waste of money. Good government can't solve all our problems, but it can at least not make them worse.
So to be clear: the administration is extracting new rounds of defense cuts that will entail troop reductions (and thereby increase the burden on our existing troops and their families) so that Obama can subsidize light rail systems that the public won't use. In the days ahead we will find out what other domestic inanities Obama wants to spend money on. But the Obama administration's ruse should be highlighted by House and Senate Republicans: He is cutting our defense to spend more on domestic programs. In this case, Gates should get back $53 billion in spending for needed forces and equipment during wartime, and the light rail project should be dumped.
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