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.
These earmarks should be the first target for members on both sides of the aisle who are concerned about “decimated” defense budgets and “draconian” cuts to domestic spending. Surreptitiously, just days before the Super Committee deadline, taxpayers will be footing the bill for an illustrative waste of defense dollars. This week, a test for the so-called Medium Extended Air Defense system is scheduled, though defense officials have already admitted they have no intention of procuring the system to aid in the country’s defense. Nonpartisan budget experts, such as the Congressional Budget Office and Government Accountability Office, have consistently recommended eliminating the system. Unfortunately, the aversion to streamlining security spending has made bellying up to the defense trough far too easy for earmark-hungry lawmakers.
What’s worse, the agreement governing MEADS is an international contract with Germany and Italy, though America has paid most of the bill for its development. Prior to the test, Germany announced it too will not waste any resources to procure MEADS. Test officials also admitted this week that the system trial will not actually require the missile to hit a target while other details regarding what the test is supposed to accomplish remain unclear. Thus, the taxpayer-funded test now amounts to a lucrative ad campaign for what will be an Italian missile defense program, though currently sponsored by the United States.
Clearly this offers at least one cut budget-weary lawmakers should be eager to make; while ending direct aid to foreign countries may meet strong bipartisan resistance, cutting funds for another country’s publicity stunt should be a no-brainer amidst a heated budget debate.
This represents just one example in a budget exceeding $500 billion where cuts can be made without impacting national security. The United States remains the largest defense spender in the world, and the only nation to maintain both Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Lawmakers should start challenging the Department of Defense to explain what it is doing if it not defending the homeland. The persistence of pork in security accounts likely factors into that answer.