Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) recently asserted that there is a “potential alliance” forming between Progressive and Tea Party lawmakers on the issue of defense spending cuts. Others have also noted this opportunity: “Arguably, the new Tea Party push on defense spending merely echoes long-standing progressive attacks on the Pentagon budget as the nation’s number one ‘entitlement’ program.”
But defense is no entitlement program. It is one of the core responsibilities of the federal government, and a necessity for sustained security and an independent American foreign policy. The issue of defense spending is exacerbated by a gross misunderstanding among average Americans about the share of military spending in the budget. According to a recent poll, 63% of those asked believe that the United States spends more on the military than on Social Security and Medicare. This is far from reality: roughly 58% of the 2010 U.S. budget was spent on domestic entitlements and welfare spending, whereas 20% was spent on defense.
The US need not police the world, but since the beginning, military preparedness for threats both manifest and unknown has been a priority. In George Washington’s first annual address to Congress in 1790, he cautioned future Americans to safeguard defense:
Among the many interesting objects which will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace. A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.
America’s traditional spending priorities deserve to be voiced in the current budget debate.
While Progressives and some Libertarians are attempting to form political alliances to cut American military spending, China plans to increase its military spending by 12.6% (to $91.5 billion) in 2011, prompting concern from countries in the region. China may not constitute a direct military threat at this time, but according to George Washington’s understanding of Congress’ role, the imminence of a threat is secondary to ensuring “effectual means” to provide for U.S. security.
Progressives such as Barney Frank do not “merit particular regard” for American security and independence abroad. Indeed, they would rather sacrifice military preparedness on the altar of domestic entitlement spending, in an effort to survive the current spending cuts with their bloated welfare programs intact. What could be further from the goals and values of the Tea Party movement?