Bogus Defense Budget Cuts

CDI’s Winslow T. Wheeler makes an interesting point:

The White House and its congressional allies have been talking tough about waging war on the deficit. As if to put some military meat on those rhetorical bones, the Pentagon has leaked a 26-page memorandum that inspired hyperventilating headlines from major dailies. “Pentagon Said to Offer Cuts in Billions,” the New York Times reported on Dec. 30, while The Wall Street Journal declared on Jan. 4, “Defense Cuts Would Strike Lockheed, Northrop: Contractors Stand to Lose Billions of Dollars in Orders As Pentagon Tightens Belt.”

What these and other dailies neglected to explain is that the memorandum (officially called “Program Budget Decision (PBD) #753”) is virtually dead-on-arrival. Regrettably, It is being killed by pork barrel spenders in Congress, narrow-minded and disingenuous civilian and military bureaucrats in the Pentagon. Indeed, it is not even clear whether the framers of PBD #753 are serious. Its $30 billion in net budget reductions are spread over six years, with many postponed until ’08 or ’09. Some cuts occur only after the targeted programs receive increases. For fiscal year 2005, which ends Sept. 30, the total reduction is $0.

Also in evidence are the same vapid exhortations Congress perennially adds to appropriations bills to pretend to reduce spending. The Army is told to save $4.5 billion with a plan to “reengineer its business practices;” the military services in general are told to save $12 billion by “reduc[ing] planned contracting support.”

Unfortunately, this is a bipartisan dance that we go through every year. Obviously necessary expenses for the Iraq War are kept off-budget as “emergency” funding. Deficit spending is the norm now, with balanced budgets occuring only through accidents such as the stock market bubble of the ’90s:

CBO Projects Deficit to Reach $368 Billion (WaPo)

The federal budget deficit is expected to reach $368 billion this fiscal year, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected today, but with an additional $80 billion expected to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, federal red ink appears destined to return to record territory. The forecast, by Congress’s official budget scorekeeper, suggests the Bush administration will continue to have difficulty reigning in federal deficits as long as war drains the government’s coffers. The CBO projected that the government will rack up another $855 billion in debt between 2006 and 2015, but that total assumes little money will be spent in Iraq over the next decade.

A dubious assumption, to say the least. When they were a minority party, the Republicans railed against profligate federal spending. Now that they control the reins of power, though, they’ve learned the lesson that the Democrats learned decades ago: Cutting spending is difficult and inflames the passions of those whose budget was slashed. While people whine about budget deficits, nobody ever lost his seat by spending too much money giving the taxpayers what they want. The easiest way to “compromise” on spending is for both sides to get most of what they want.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ken says:

    Budget deficits were eliminated by President Bill Clinton by raising taxes on the top 2% of the taxpayers in the United States. The economy, instead on going into a recession as every conservative pundit and republican politician predicted it would, boomed.

    Budget deficits are not inevitable except when we have conservatives in charge. Conservatives have proven, time and again, to be without the spine to raise the revenue needed to cover our desired level of spending.

  2. James Joyner says:

    ken: Your explanation fails to explain why we had budget deficits, under Democratic presidents, when taxes on the upper percentiles were much, much higher.

    Further, we had huge budget deficits under Clinton until the bubble–and Gingrich and co. took over the Congress. Divided government makes cutting spending easier. Even then, though, we simply grew our way out of deficits because of a massive–and largely artificial–growth in the economy owing to the stock/tech booms.

  3. McGehee says:

    Sometimes I think Ken credits Clinton for all the asteroids that didn’t hit the earth during the ’90s.

  4. Rick DeMent says:

    ken: Your explanation fails to explain why we had budget deficits, under Democratic presidents, when taxes on the upper percentiles were much, much higher.

    Let’s see, under Carter we had the equivalent of $80 a barrel oil and even with the CPI as high as it was average business investment under Carter was more then double that of the Reagan era and 3 times that for the Bush I era. Before that you would have to go back to Johnson.

    That’s just off the top of my head though.

  5. McGehee says:

    That’s just off the top of my head though.

    What, no links?