The debt limit deal that tasked a new “Super Committee” with finding major savings is about to hit its first important deadline, with the committee required to report a proposal by next week. The chance of the committee agreeing to a plan that produces the requisite $1.2 trillion in savings is becoming increasingly slim, which will lead to an across-the-board cut to federal spending. This has prompted cataclysmic prophesies from both sides of the aisle, with war hawks arguing the ballooning obligations of entitlements are the true drivers of debt and thus should be the first to fall to the budget axe.
Those bent on protecting entitlements have of course argued the same, demanding that as the largest discretionary allotment in the federal budget, defense should also share in spending reform. With much of the mandatory burden exempt from sequestration, however, it would appear a lasting debate on entitlement reform will continue to be delayed until policymakers are able to rein in exploding discretionary baselines. This means more efficient spending in all categories, not just defense, is the only way to set the path towards lasting American solvency.
A discussion on where military spending can be streamlined is not an unreasonable one to have. The base defense budget has grown by a trillion dollars over the past decade, not including the costs of the wars. Even with the full sequester, the United States will be spending more than twice the combined expenditures of the other top five military spenders. According to Winslow Wheeler at the Straus Military Project, America will still be spending almost four times the sum military expenditures of China, South Korea, Russia, Iran and Cuba.
Surely a budget that consumes over half of discretionary spending accounts has room for streamlining. However, with House leadership banning earmarks and Senate Republicans doing the same, defense spending has remained the last bastion for pork-barrelers . Indeed, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance found $2.1 billion worth of earmarks in this year’s House Defense Appropriations bill.