WASHINGTON -- This past Wednesday, President Barack Obama chastised the U.S. Senate to get on with delivering an "economic stimulus package," saying that "failure to act, and act now, will turn a crisis into a catastrophe." Last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives did their best -- and passed the largest spending bill in history without a single Republican vote. The unprecedented shoulder-to-shoulder stand by GOP members of the House alerted the American people to a disaster in the making. As a consequence, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid admits that he doesn't "have the votes" to pass an even more expensive measure in the Senate. Now what?
How about a dose of reality? Despite public opprobrium, some kind of tax-and-spend compromise eventually will pass and be signed into law. After all, politicians at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue want to show the American people that they "care." Ideally, real "economic stimulus" legislation should cut taxes as much as possible and spend as little borrowed money as possible on things that really will "stimulate" the U.S. economy.
Unfortunately, given the political alignment in Washington, it is unlikely that taxes will be cut enough, and inevitably there will be too much spending on the wrong priorities. However, there is one place where Republicans need to stand their ground: national defense.
Right now, neither the House's nor the Senate's version of the so-called "stimulus bill" contains any dollars for defense. It ought to stay that way because this "stimulus" legislation ought to focus like a laser on short-term measures, such as immediate tax cuts, that will expedite recovery in the civilian sector of our economy. But the Obama administration and their supporters on Capitol Hill need to understand that when it comes to spending, there are few things government can do that have a more immediate, positive effect on jobs and the overall economy than expenditures on national defense.
Ronald Reagan knew that. In his first 100 days in office, he took his arguments for cutting taxes and rebuilding the U.S. military -- including a 600-ship Navy -- to the American people. He convinced them -- and they, in turn, convinced the liberals running Capitol Hill -- that these measures were essential for the country. The result was a dramatic rebound in jobs and economic growth from the malaise and stagflation of the Carter years, and there also were significant improvements in the quality, capabilities and readiness of our armed forces.
Regrettably, this lesson appears to have been missed by Mr. Obama and his advisers. The administration has made it clear that they intend to cut defense spending -- even though we are at war -- despite the job losses it would entail. Just days before the inauguration, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel stated in televised interviews that "on an annual basis, we have about $300 billion in cost overruns" from the Defense Department. The interviewers on NBC and PBS failed to ask him to identify where he found these "overruns" in a $527 billion wartime budget. It apparently doesn't matter. This week, the Office of Management and Budget ordered the Pentagon to show how it can cut $55 billion from the fiscal year 2010 defense program.
To "stimulate" action in this direction, the Congressional Budget Office helpfully pointed out that "savings" of $18 billion could be "realized" by reversing Mr. Obama's pledge to increase the sizes of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps and instead cutting the number of Army combat brigades and reducing the Marines' end strength. The green-eyeshade gang at the CBO also pointed out that $2.1 billion could be "saved" by increasing health care charges for the dependents of military personnel. That should help morale.
Additional "savings" have been identified by others on Capitol Hill. Reps. Barney Frank and Barbara Lee have announced that they want to "trim" what they call "Cold War-era" weapons from the 2010 budget. Included in their "cut list" are the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter ($6.1 billion), the F/A-22 Raptor ($4.5 billion), the Marines' V-22 Osprey ($1.3 billion), the DDG-1000 destroyer ($3.5 billion) and the Army's Future Combat Systems ($3.7 billion).
Even though Iran succeeded in putting a satellite in orbit this week -- demonstrating the capability to launch nuclear-tipped ICBMs -- Rep. Frank persists in claiming that ballistic missile defense ($8.9 billion) is on the chopping block, as well, adding, "We don't need all these fancy new weapons."
In an increasingly dangerous world, in the midst of a war and serious global economic woes, this kind of thinking is lunacy. The Obama administration and their liberal allies on Capitol Hill need to set aside their deep-seated, pathological antipathy toward America's military and invest in the defense of this nation.
In the aftermath of the "Daschle Debacle," Mr. Obama acknowledged, "I screwed up." It is now time for him to make the same admission about his efforts to gut our defense budget. Spending more on defense -- not less -- is not only good for our economy but also good for all of us.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.