Having enacted major tax legislation, Republicans may now seek to cut programs like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and food stamps. Why? Because increased deficits created by their tax legislation threaten the economy. Like the kid who murders his parents and pleads for leniency because he is an orphan, these guys aren't lacking for chutzpah.
If savings are necessary, entitlement programs should not be the first targets. Huge savings can be made in our military budget in at least three ways:
l. Increased efficiency. Politicians claiming that improved efficiency will permit large budget cuts for the State Department, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other agencies should explain why the Defense Department is uniquely unable to improve efficiency. Efficiency will produce limited savings, but every little bit helps. As Sen. Everett Dirksen allegedly said, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money." The unprecedented upcoming Pentagon audit may help some, too.
2.Give the Pentagon only what it feels it needs. Hawkish legislators have often appropriated funds for ships, airplanes, and tanks the Pentagon considers totally unnecessary. According to a report from the Center For Public Integrity, eliminating these unneeded purchases would save billions,
3. Close bases that the Pentagon doesn't want. These, too, are often included in the budget to please lawmakers whose states will profit.
As an additional saving, no money should be appropriated to build a wall. Since President Trump says he is sure Mexico will pay for it, let him pay for it himself and then try to collect it.
Reducing inefficiency, eliminating unneeded purchases, and closing surplus bases could allow full funding of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and food for hungry people without reducing American military capability.
Even more can be saved if we make a hard-nosed reconsideration of foreign and military policy. We have been spending more than the next nine countries — China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, Japan, Germany, and South Korea — combined. When Donald Trump was inaugurated we were spending 3.3 percent of our gross domestic product, more than any major countries except Saudi Arabia (which spends 13.7 percent of its oil-based GDP!) and Russia (with such a small economy that its 5.4 percent only allows it to spend one-ninth of what the U.S. does).
Donald Trump came in advocating a 10 percent military budget increase. But why do we need such large military forces?? Do we fear that the other nine top spenders will jointly attack us? Did World War II and the Cold War traumatize us into paranoia, with a Cold War mentality persisting way beyond its expiration date?
Even during the Cold War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower — who knew something about defense — warned (on Jan. 17, 1961) that we "must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
How can we determine the right budget for defense? We might consider NATO's recommendation that each member spend 2 percent of GDP. If 2 percent is reasonable, the fact that we are spending 3.3 percent of our GDP suggests that we are overdoing and should reduce our expenditures down to 2 percent.
Current military appropriations are about $700 billion annually ( if Congress overrides its sequestration rules), and the GDP is about $18.57 trillion, so this would save $328 billion annually. The $372 billion remaining in the defense budget would still exceed combined spending by the next four highest countries. As other NATO members increase military budgets, it makes sense to decrease ours, since NATO's total strength reflects members' combined spending.
Recent wars have piled up the national debt and probably undermined national security. Interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya replaced terrible governments with worse ones or with terrorist-breeding anarchy. Costly Obama-initiated efforts to dethrone Assad prolonged the Syrian civil war and never showed signs of success.
A smaller military budget would encourage serious reflection and self-discipline before decisions to deploy troops. It would also help if all future wars are financed entirely by temporary income tax increases earmarked for that purpose rather than by borrowing or cutting other programs.
Rather than trying to impose our vision of good government on other countries, perhaps we should make America so attractive that foreigners demand their own governments imitate us. Cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and food for the hungry clearly won't help here.
It might be possible to reduce military spending even more aggressively than I have suggested here. This would require radical changes in defense strategy that most Americans probably wouldn't be willing to consider. For what it is worth, though, and as a contribution to our national dialog, I will discuss this possibility in a future column.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published 1981 and his most recent book is "The Case of the Racist Choir Conductor: Struggling With America's Original Sin." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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