Defense & National Security

CBO: The military is getting squeezed

CBO: The military is getting squeezed

Yesterday’s announcement of deep military cuts prompted criticism that our armed forces were being squeezed for cash to fund domestic spending programs.  A report from the Congressional Budget Office supports that contention, as noted by Doug McKelway at Fox News:

As the Obama administration announces proposed sweeping defense cuts, a Congressional Budget Office report documents how increases in other areas of domestic spending may be forcing the White House to reduce money for the military.

The CBO report finds that mandatory spending, which includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, is projected to rise $85 billion, or 4 percent, to $2.1 trillion this year.

Interest on the debt is worse. It is projected to increase 14 percent per year, almost quadrupling in dollar terms between 2014 and 2024. “We are going to be spending more in interest in a couple of years then we do on national defense,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., told Fox News.

That’s exactly what critics of runaway government spending have been warning about for years, only to have there warnings dismissed by “tomorrow never comes” debt addicts with indestructible faith in the ability of Big Government to print as many dollars as it needs.  It wasn’t that long ago that warnings of debt interest surpassing the Pentagon budget were considered sky-is-falling alarmism.  Now we’re only a few years away from the first chunks of sky landing the helmets of our troops, and the decks of our ships.

A correspondent reminds me that Army cuts are getting all the headlines today, but the Navy is also seeing dangerous reductions.  With the Army cut to the bone – cut through the bone – the Navy will probably be gobbled up by entitlement spending and debt service next.  The idea of a small, high-tech force of planes, drones, and special operators has little room for naval power beyond aircraft carriers, and some subs for nuclear deterrent.  Perhaps questions will be asked by cash-hungry politicians about just how well those carriers need to be defended.  It’s silly to think of America fighting a major naval engagement, right?  Nobody’s going to seriously threaten our carriers and subs, right?

And while there was plenty of bipartisan cooperation in the creation of this all-consuming debt crisis, let me be blunt: not a single Democrat alive will do anything to stop it, or even slow it down.  Not enough Republicans will, either, especially if their caucus is filled with people who think reducing the annual growth of a spending program from 12 percent to 10 percent constitutes a “cut.”  But we’re at least a decade away from any major Democrat admitting the problem exists, let alone doing something about it.  (I can give you a rough idea of when they’ll wake up: the day when mandatory debt-service and entitlement spending crushes a program that doesn’t run through the Pentagon.)

One of the troubling things about military cuts is that ramping back up to crisis levels is a lot harder than pouring a few more billion into a phony “stimulus” program.  There are plenty of “shovel-ready jobs” in time of war, but those shovels require complex manufacturing capacity to create, and a lot of training to handle properly.  The decline of military influence within the broader American culture will also be difficult to reverse; I fear we civilians have already grown too far from our defenders.  I take the success of projects like the “Lone Survivor” movie as a sign many Americans share those concerns.

Blithe assurances that we’ll never face another large-scale military challenge have preceded every large-scale military challenge in history.  In this case, I think there’s a good deal of reverse-engineered finger-crossing in those assurances.  The fiscal reality is that we can’t afford a large military any more, and within a few years, we won’t be able to afford one at all.  Mandatory spending will crowd everything else out within our lifetimes.  Our military capability is one of the first things to go – it’s happening right now.  The choice between guns and butter is not difficult for politicians to make, when a throng of people line up outside their windows to demand the “free” butter they are “entitled” to.  Free butter is expensive, especially when you buy it with maxed-out credit cards.

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