George Orwell, it’s time to turn over in your grave.
In Orwell’s world of double talk and upside down reality, few stories can rival one that took place this morning on National Public Radio (NPR). The show started out with a quote from Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, to the effect that the “biggest threat we have to our national security is our debt.”
True enough. Out of control spending threatens to squeeze the discretionary part of the federal budget, of which defense is a part. The growing debt will become so large that it will, in the words of Admiral Mullen, undermine “the economy and rob resources needed to protect the population.” By “resources,” he means the armed forces.
Imagine our surprise, then, when the story took a strange twist. The reporter stated, “At $700 billion a year, defense is the biggest part of the federal budget.” Then he asked what he thought was an “interesting” question: “If overspending now endangers U.S. security, is it because the country is spending too much on security”?
This question is palpably absurd. How can acquiring tanks, airplanes and land armies for America endanger our defense and security? By that twisted logic, the best way to get stronger is to do away with the armed forces altogether.
There is only one way to draw such a conclusion: Misconstrue the facts. Since the NPR reporter believes that defense is the biggest part of the federal budget, he leaps to the conclusion —time to turn over, George—that we must cut defense in order to save it.
Here’s the problem: Defense spending is not the largest share of the budget, nor the cause of our rising debt. Out of control spending on social entitlements and other domestic programs is.
The latest budget report (Excel) from the White House Office of Management and Budget shows spending on Social Security this year alone at $721.5 billion, more than what Obama will spend on defense ($719.2 billion). All told, entitlement spending in 2010 will consume 13.4 percent of GDP, while defense only consumes 4.8 percent. By the year 2020, those chunks will be 14.1 percent on Entitlements and only 3.8 percent on defense. And while defense spending declines as a share of our nation’s productivity, what we pay on the debt will more than triple, from 1.4 percent this year to 4.6 percent in 2020.
Defense is not the budget beast the NPR host claimed. In fact, it claims just 19 percent of all federal spending this year, while entitlements (excluding net interest) account for 56 percent. But pointing that out during the NPR program would likely have caused the academic “brains” being interviewed to choke. And silence does not make for good radio.