Morning Bell: Liberals Force Choice Between Economic and National Security

Rory Cooper /

Put the security of the nation at risk or raise taxes. This is the sour “deal” liberal lawmakers are offering in exchange for insufficient spending cuts, according to reports of this weekend’s debt negotiations in Washington.

The framework that Republicans and Democrats are close to approving would raise the debt limit by at least $2.1 trillion and get Obama and congressional Democrats past their target date: Election Day 2012. In return for this generous political cover, Democrats would agree to a modest $1 trillion in supposed cuts spread out over 10 years; $350 billion of those “upfront” savings come from gutting national security resources.

A trillion dollars over 10 years is not sufficient to impress credit rating agencies, which have threatened to downgrade America’s credit status unless Congress enacts real measures to reform spending and lower the deficit. In fact, on Friday, Moody’s announced that neither the Boehner plan nor the Reid plan had sufficient cuts, saying: “Reductions of the magnitude now being proposed, if adopted, would likely lead Moody’s to adopt a negative outlook on the AAA rating.” The current plan does not improve upon either of those earlier plans.

In addition to the $1 trillion, the framework sets up a “special” congressional committee that would seek $1.4 trillion in “deficit reduction” by the end of 2011. Of course, for liberals, “deficit reduction” is synonymous with “higher taxes.”

If the commission’s recommendations are not enacted, across-the-board spending cuts would be triggered, half of which (nearly $500 billion) would come from national security spending, and apparently none of which would come from the ever-growing, budget-busting entitlement programs. This provides Democrats on the committee a powerful bargaining position. Agree to their tax hikes or gut defense. It is a dangerous choice conservative lawmakers should not have to make. The defense cuts would compromise our nation’s security and the tax hikes would compromise our nation’s economy.

Sadly, some liberals view our nation’s national security as a bargaining chip and fail to recognize that (1) defense spending is not the cause of the problem, and (2) these cuts put our troops and our national security at risk. Without adequate security, our nation will begin an avoidable decline and lose superpower status.

Every honest observer knows the problem is entitlement spending, not the defense budget or a lack of revenue. Defense spending has been on the decline for decades, as a percentage of GDP, despite wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya. It is currently below its historical average of 5.2 percent of GDP. Meanwhile, entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) grew from 2.5 percent of GDP in 1965 to over 10 percent today and represent 60 percent of the total federal budget.

If the country spent nothing on defense, we would still be headed towards an entitlement-driven spending crisis.

On the revenue side, on ABC’s This Week yesterday, White House political advisor David Plouffe suggested that even “most Republicans in America” support raising taxes. Of course, his pronouncements of their popularity are undercut by him not being able to say the word tax and rather incorrectly calling them “revenue.”

Equating tax hikes with revenue is simply incorrect. Government revenue will grow from increased economic growth and more people employed. Most people in America do in fact believe raising taxes on job creators is not the way to create employment or economic growth.

Some Republicans are claiming that tax hikes are nearly impossible due to the structure of the debt reduction committee. Many disagree with that, including Red State’s Erick Erickson, The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, and White House Advisor David Plouffe, who categorically said this morning that tax hikes are not only possible but likely.

Other Republicans are claiming that defense funding is protected because the legislative category also includes the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Veterans Administration, and Foreign Aid. But the target of cuts will still be the Pentagon.

There are thankfully some lawmakers resisting ending this debate on the backs of our troops. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) released a statement on Sunday saying he is “very concerned about rumors that the debt agreement now being negotiated will disproportionately cut defense spending and result in unacceptably high risk to our national security.” In a press conference on Saturday, Congressman Allen West (R-FL) called potential defense cuts “incredible” and “unconscionable.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) described the situation: “The Army and Marines are stretched dangerously thin, separated from their families, and using hardware that has been chewed up by a decade of fighting.” And Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) similarly said: “If they have to make these cuts it’ll have to come out of personnel, and they’ll have to reduce their force structure, and they’ll have to have a new strategy for how they defend the United States of America.”

There is room for internal reform at the Pentagon, and savings can be found, but those savings need to be allocated for other pressing military needs. Our nation’s enemies will take advantage of this weakness, and in turn, we’ll have to spend more than necessary in the future to catch up, fight off threats, and lower our heightened risk.

As Heritage expert James Carafano points out: “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.”

President Obama initially wanted a “clean” debt limit increase, and then he wanted more “stimulus” coupled with an increase. Now we are debating how best to make real cuts in our spending. Conservatives have gotten us to this point because public support is on our side. These last desperate gasps to gut resources for our troops or raise taxes on job creators are the final liberal attempts to appease a far left base.

Congressional conservatives fought hard to drive down spending toward a balanced budget, while protecting our defenses, and without raising taxes. The Ryan budget plan and the Cut, Cap and Balance Act were good steps in that direction. But the final deal, driven by liberal leaders on Capitol Hill and in the White House, sets up America for the worst possible outcome later this year—both job-killing taxes and safety-risking defense cuts—while entitlement spending goes on and on.

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