In the midst of a debate over how and where to cut government spending, Congress needs to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to defense during wartime. There is undoubtedly need for Congress to continually demand efficiencies in the defense budget, but Congress should allow the military to use any savings that it generates to pay for urgent priorities.
Policymakers must be honest and start with national security strategy and military missions before approving arbitrary cuts. Only then will they be forced to acknowledge that the overall amount spent on defense is already selling the military short. Instead of addressing the real causes of runaway spending—major entitlement programs like Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid—President Obama announced in April that he wanted to take an additional $400 billion from the military.
Already, annual spending to buy new equipment is under-funded, as noted by former President Clinton’s Secretary of Defense. Yet, Congress and the President continue trying to balance the budget on the backs of those in uniform who are spread thin across the globe.
Elected officials who claim that “defense cuts won’t hurt the troops” are not being forthcoming. After World War I, Americans were told the U.S. would rearm if a threat arose, but the defense cuts that followed arguably encouraged the enemy to rise up and attack us first. After 9/11, the U.S. military went to war short tens of thousands of troops and lacking critical equipment like body armor and armored vehicles.
Now, the President proposes $400 billion in defense spending cuts without naming a single mission America’s military can abandon. Defense cuts disconnected from reality and lacking in strategic foundation will only burden an already heavily taxed force and increase the risk confronting all Americans.
The bottom line is that politicians are asking the military to fight our nation’s wars with old and worn equipment while maintaining every U.S. commitment throughout the world.
Cutting the military now won’t save money later, especially if it increases U.S. vulnerability.
Congress and the Administration should fully fund defense at the minimum level requested by President Obama in 2012 and invest any savings garnered from efficiencies back into the defense budget.