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Monday, March 18, 2019

The Pentagon’s Budget Is Crazy—by Trump’s Own Admission

Cutting spending needs to happen even at the Pentagon where there is lots of waste, redundancy, and purchases of weapons systems that are not strictly essential for America’s national security.

The federal budget deficit is expected to be over $1 trillion in the current fiscal year. The deficit is huge despite the fact that the economy is growing, and deficits are supposed to shrink or disappear during periods of economic growth. There is no excuse for running such a large deficit during good economic times.

Given the sheer size of the deficit, it is necessary to cut government waste and excessive spending literally everywhere.

Whatever deficit the government is running during good times inevitably grows when the economy plunges into a recession. And a recession will happen eventually due to the business cycle within a few years. So running a deficit of $1 trillion now means that it could easily rise to record-breaking levels during the next recession.

Given the sheer size of the deficit, it is necessary to cut government waste and excessive spending literally everywhere. Doing so will reduce the risk of a future financial crisis that could lead to our government going bankrupt. Cutting spending needs to happen even at the Pentagon, where there is lots of waste, redundancy, and purchases of weapons systems that are not strictly essential for America’s national security.

The Pentagon’s Budget Is Bloated

That’s why it is disappointing that the Trump administration’s proposed Pentagon budget is so big. At Slate, Fred Kaplan calls it “bloated,” and notes that “President Donald Trump’s request for a $750 billion military budget in fiscal 2020 is not only the largest ever but also the most undisciplined” in a generation. As Kaplan observes, many think the Pentagon’s budget could be far smaller. For example, “Rep. Adam Smith, the new Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has said he thinks the defense budget could be reduced to $600 billion with little harm to security, if cut smartly.”

Chris Preble of the Cato Institute also calls the $750 billion proposed Pentagon budget excessive. Preble, a former Navy officer, notes that

[T]he United States spends more than twice as much on its military as China and Russia combined, and is clearly the world’s “preeminent military power,” but it isn’t obvious that we’re getting the biggest bang for our bucks, nor that this additional spending will be critical to sustaining our edge.

As Preble observes, President Trump himself has called this level of spending excessive in the past. Indeed:

This latest proposed increase comes after [Trump] had gone back and forth on what he wanted to spend, initially telling all departments to prepare for a 5 percent cut, then back-tracking and saying the defense budget would not only be exempt from such reductions, but would actually increase. On another occasion, he blurted out on Twitter that it was “crazy” to spend $716 billion on the military, but then reversed himself a week later.

Another defense analyst calls the proposed $750 billion Pentagon budget an “astronomical increase” and notes it is well above the Budget Control Act cap of $576 billion.

Unnecessary Spending 

The Pentagon can make do with less: the Cato Institute identified $17-20 billion in readily-achievable savings to the 2013 military budget.

As Fareed Zakaria noted in a 2011 Washington Post op-ed, the United States spends more on defense than every other country in the world combined:

Given the enormous run-up in spending under George W. Bush, even if President Obama made comparable cuts to that of those presidents today, defense spending would remain substantially above the levels under all those presidents. The Bowles-Simpson commission’s plan proposed $750 billion in defense cuts over 10 years. Lawrence Korb, who worked at the Pentagon for Ronald Reagan, believes that a $1 trillion cut over 10 to 12 years is feasible without compromising national security.

Serious conservatives should examine the defense budget … [which includes] a cradle-to-grave system of housing, subsidies, cost-plus procurement, early retirement and lifetime pension and health-care guarantees. There is so much overlap among the military services, so much duplication and so much waste that no one bothers to defend it anymore. Today, the U.S. defense establishment is the world’s largest socialist economy.

Zakaria quotes former defense secretary Robert Gates observing that “there are more members of military marching bands than make up the entire U.S. foreign service.”

But instead of cutting wasteful spending, our politicians want to spend trillions of dollars we don’t have on new programs, like the Green New Deal backed by leading Democrats. The Green New Deal has been variously estimated by think-tanks to cost up to $65,000 per household per year, or at least $50 trillion and possibly over $90 trillion (four times the size of the entire U.S. economy). Leading Democratic presidential contenders support the Green New Deal, such as Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren.

The Green New Deal blueprint is so ill-conceived that it would harm the stability of America’s power grid, close many low-carbon power plants, and increase construction-related pollution. Several of these progressive politicians also support race-based reparations, which the New York Times says could “cost several trillion dollars.” Reparations policies harmed the economies of countries that pursued them, such as Zimbabwe.

This article is reprinted with permission from Liberty Unyielding. 

  • Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law.