This week, Representative Buck McKeon (R–CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, released a memorandum to Republicans on the committee. He appropriately criticized the “Gang of Six” budget outline from the Senate for its possible negative consequences for national security.
Since the Gang of Six proposal is nothing more than an outline to this point, McKeon is right to flag the possible ramifications. The few specific numbers its proponents have described do not meet the requirements for appropriate analysis, let alone the more stringent requirements for budget scoring. Unfortunately, even members of the Gang of Six have acknowledged as much. It seems that little more than a press release is required to get credit for debt reduction in Washington these days.
Responding to what little detail has been provided, McKeon estimates that the Gang of Six proposal will cut almost $900 billion in national security spending over a decade and implies that the national security accounts will absorb nearly half of all federal budget discretionary cuts. Asking security agencies, namely the U.S. military, to absorb half of the spending cuts in this proposal is irresponsible.
What we do know as fact—and where McKeon is not speculating—is that the U.S. military has already contributed to debt reduction over the past two years when no other federal agency has done so.
Indeed, the defense budget has already been slashed by $439 billion over 10 years since President Obama submitted his fiscal year (FY) 2011 request last February. Accordingly, he is on solid ground when he starkly warns his fellow Members of Congress that this proposal “would not allow us to perform our Constitutional responsibility to provide for the safety and security of our country or keep faith with men and women in uniform.”
In short, the Senate’s Gang of Six proposal is a totally inappropriate way for Congress to exercise its solemn responsibility to provide for the nation’s security. The plan’s supporters are offering only vague descriptions accompanied by uncertain numbers and asking Congress to enact the proposal and the President to sign it into law on a fast-track basis. TARP redux, anyone?
Yet the bottom line remains that this plan could have devastating consequences for national security for years—maybe even decades—to come.
All of these negative consequences for national security that may result from the Gang of Six budget proposal would happen because of decades of uncontrolled spending on domestic programs. Military spending, even through two wars over the last decade (and not counting the recent intrusion into Libya), has been reasonably constrained. No true apples-to-apples comparison is being made in the proposal between national security spending on one side and domestic spending on the other. That is because this analysis would expose the disproportionate contribution that the men and women in uniform are making to debt reduction while entitlement reforms are largely kicked down the road.
The only right path for Congress to pursue in resolving the current budget crisis—and it is a crisis—is to adopt a long-term plan for federal spending restraint while providing adequate resources for defense. This follows the recommendations found in Heritage’s “Saving the American Dream” proposal. This detailed package would allocate an average of $720 billion per year on defense between now and FY 2016, as opposed a Gang of Six plan that could easily reduce the number by more than $50 billion per year and put the nation on the path to further destructive and dangerous defense cuts after 2016.