We are nearing the first of three dates when our elected representatives in Washington have to make some tough budget decisions. The sequestration bill that went into effect earlier this year will cut several trillion dollars through 2021. The unfortunate byproduct of these cuts is that they are indiscriminate and hurt all federal agencies equally. That’s not a good recipe for our government or country as it will impact two among several of the more important government functions: Defense and law enforcement.
I never want the armed forces of the United States to be second best to any country. For now that isn’t likely to happen. One of the most important factors in making us the power that we became is our economy and industrial might. Our WW II enemies were very capable fighters, but they could not out produce us, they could not keep up with our ability to throw planes, ships and logistics against them in incomprehensible numbers. It has been that way ever since, but the recession that began in 2007 has begun to change how we must think, prepare, and plan.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), personnel and healthcare costs for the military are greater than ninety percent of their civilian counterparts---and rising. I am familiar with the usual arguments of how cutting some of these costs would be a breach of faith, but two things to consider. First, I am not talking about costs for wounded and disabled veterans. Second, our economy is in trouble, and most civilian workers, not to mention state and local government employees, have paid a heavy price. Everyone has to have an oar in the water if we are to get through these tough times. The only exception I would make to this argument is to raise taxes to keep the spending at the current levels. I’m sure, though, that what I’ll hear instead is how we should cut government waste first, which means cutting anything that doesn’t affect the person making this argument.
Something else to consider is the need to be more judicious in deciding when to use troops. Every military engagement has another component that doesn’t get much mention---the staggering costs to fund the Veterans Administration. I am astounded at some of the crazy talk about bombing Iran before giving diplomacy a chance. And yes, there are very credible people in the Israeli government, military and intelligence who support the six month agreement and lifting of sanctions with Iran. Few seem to remember that Benjamin Netanyahu said in 1995 that we had to bomb Iran now because their development of the bomb was imminent. Forgotten too is that no country in the world has the right to make foreign policy for the United States.
One of the difficulties in cutting defense spending is having a volunteer military. Very few members of congress have ever worn the uniform. No doubt many feel a certain guilt in sending others into harm’s way, especially those who lived through the draft and took advantage of every deferment they could get. Perhaps having a perfect record of always “supporting the troops” is their way of showing patriotism and assuaging any negative feelings about their lack of service . Maybe a two year mandatory public service requirement, which could be civilian or military, with greater benefits going to the military, would be one solution to spiraling personnel costs facing the Pentagon.
Some economists predict that our current situation is likely to last for decades for a lot of reasons that make sense. Our congress is going to have to work harder, smarter, and get down to the real work of tax reform. They are going to have to stop the nonsense of paying farmers hundreds of billions in various crop support programs, providing loan guarantees to banks, and propping up other segments of the private sector that so many claim works much more efficiently than the government. Tougher times lie ahead regardless, but it’s time to find officials who will make the tough choices independent from special interests. Any bets on the likelihood of that happening?