Will America's Military be Placed on the Chop Block?

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Posted: Jan 27, 2010 4:59 PM
In light of President Obama's likely call for a spending freeze in tonight's State of the Union address, and Nancy Pelosi's insistence that defense spending be included in it, a message from Mackenzie Eaglen, Research Fellow for National Security Studies with the Heritage Foundation.


In his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama is expected to announce a freeze on federal spending with some notable exceptions including one for defense spending. Today, The Heritage Foundation releases a chart book examining the state of the U.S. military.

Most Americans already know the U.S. military is unmatched throughout the world. What they don’t know is that a deeper look reveals the state of the military is one in need of recapitalization after eight years of warfare and coming off a previous decade of underinvestment.

While the men and women in uniform are the best-led and best-trained, their equipment is not keeping up with modern demands. Over the next few days, Heritage will explore some of the trends that have emerged in the Administration’s defense policy and what they mean for national security.

The bottom line: defense spending is under pressure from exploding domestic entitlements. The defense budget is historically low relative to all the nation’s previous wars, and the military’s budget is dwarfed by Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, growing exponentially on autopilot. In 2009, defense spending was also eclipsed by financial bailouts and out-of-control spending on other domestic programs.

Defense spending is less than one-fifth of the federal budget, and defense is clearly not the source of the federal government’s fiscal woes.

Spending on America’s military is also facing pressure from interest payments on the national debt. Although net interest was only 3.6 percent of the federal budget in 2009 due to record low interest rates and the global economic downturn, it was almost 13 percent of the budget in 2008. It is on track to return to similar levels in the next three years.

President Obama’s ten-year budget plan will reduce the defense budget significantly at a time when the military must recover from the wear and tear of wartime. As entitlements, domestic programs, and interest payments balloon, policymakers in Washington are likely to continue turning to the defense budget as a billpayer and bailout.

Washington must address the urgent, ongoing needs of those in uniform or risk further declining readiness and the loss of capabilities the nation has come to rely on for over one half-century. Providing for the common defense is the first job of government.

This investment priority on America’s military should be an easy choice for Washington.