Pentagon Budget Cuts ? Yes, Why Not ?

With everyone concerned about the budget deficit, the idea of cutting military spending is finally gaining traction on Capitol Hill.

With news of yet higher budget deficits, the idea of cutting the defense budget is starting to gain traction in Washington:

WASHINGTON — After nearly a decade of rapid increases in military spending, the Pentagon is facing intensifying political and economic pressures to restrain its budget, setting up the first serious debate since the terrorist attacks of 2001 about the size and cost of the armed services.

Lawmakers, administration officials and analysts said the combination of big budget deficits, the winding down of the war in Iraq and President Obama’s pledge to begin pulling troops from Afghanistan next year were leading Congress to contemplate reductions in Pentagon financing requests.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has sought to contain the budget-cutting demands by showing Congress and the White House that he can squeeze more efficiency from the Pentagon’s bureaucracy and weapons programs and use the savings to maintain fighting forces.

But the increased pressure is already showing up in efforts by Democrats in Congress to move more quickly than senior Pentagon officials had expected in trimming the administration’s budget request for next year.

And in the longer term, with concern mounting about the government’s $13 trillion debt, a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission is warning that cuts in military spending could be needed to help the nation dig out of its financial hole.

“We’re going to have to take a hard look at defense if we are going to be serious about deficit reduction,” said Erskine B. Bowles, a chief of staff to President Bill Clinton who is a co-chairman of the deficit commission. Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire who is also on the debt commission, said that if the panel pushes for cuts in discretionary spending, “defense should be looked at,” perhaps through another base-closing commission.

Mr. Gates is calling for the Pentagon’s budget to keep growing in the long run at 1 percent a year after inflation, plus the costs of the war. It has averaged an inflation-adjusted growth rate of 7 percent a year over the last decade (nearly 12 percent a year without adjusting for inflation), including the costs of the wars. So far, Mr. Obama has asked Congress for an increase in total spending next year of 2.2 percent, to $708 billion — 6.1 percent higher than the peak under the Bush administration.

A number which is put into context when you realize that military spending now is higher now than it has been at any time in the post World War II era (although it does take up a smaller percentage of GDP):

The problem is that, while most people look at the Pentagon budgets and think about $ 400 hammers and multi-billion dollar weapons systems, the real costs are elsewhere:

Two-thirds of Pentagon spending is on personnel costs. It is possible that the Pentagon will have to look for the first time at cuts to the health benefits provided to active and retired military personnel and their families.

Meaning, that real Penatgon budget cuts will only come when we think seriously about reducing the size of the military. With withdrawal imminent in Iraq, and beginning within a year in Afghanistan, it’s possible that we might actually be able to do that, but I have to wonder what the political wars will be like if and when the Pentagon starts suggesting that entire sections of the armed forces be eliminated. It’s a conversation we need to have, though, because, much like the space program, an everything-at-all-costs military is something we just can’t afford anymore.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Bob Jones says:

    Let’s start by getting rid of the Department of Education, National Endowment for The Arts, and let’s throw in some of those social programs that have failed to lift people up but still keep sucking taxpayers’ money into their toilet.

  2. john personna says:

    I think I’d draw a line somewhere between the Department of Education, and the National Endowment for The Arts, but maybe that’s just me.

    (That argument though distracts from reductions that are more possible, politically. These things do tend to descend into “what I’d cut first” rather than “what can we really get cut?”)

  3. The DoE budget is about $ 50 billion — or about 1.66% of the total Federal Budget.

    The National Endowment for the Arts Budget is about $ 170 million — or 0.0056666666666666666666666666666667 % of the total Federal Budget.

    Chump change, my friend, chump change

  4. tps says:

    Can the Pentagon budget be cut and be cut by a lot without harming our security? Most certainly! The question that needs to answer though is: what do we want our military to do? That also ties in with our foreign policy as well. Once you have those answered you can make the cuts and spending shifts to bring the changes about. The best way might be starting from zero and building up.

    Will that ever happen? Nah….. Way too many apple carts and rice bowls and pork would need to be tossed aside. Not just congressional pork either. The various services have too much state in the big ticket items already. Good example is the navy and the big deck carriers. Could we do with fewer and/or smaller ones? Cases can and cannot be made but you’ll NEVER hear it from the admirals.

    What we will get is meat clever style cuts I fear.

  5. john personna says:

    BTW, in the information age the Voice of America is still getting a couple hundred million.

  6. just me says:

    I suspect there are things that can be cut, but if troops and especially their benefits end up on the chopping block, I think there may be some protest-especially if it comes to the benefits being cut.

    I generally wonder if we need as many troops overseas as we currently have (I haven’t personally studied it, but why do we need to have troops in Germany, the UK and Italy?).

    Maybe it is time to rethink where we have troops stationed and why and whether it makes sense to spend the money to have them there.

    I do think when making cuts it is important to be wary of cutting too much, because nothing will screw the military over more than to end up in a situation where troops are needed, but we don’t have enough which will result in long deployments too close together.

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Let’s start with a serious strategic review, decide what we can and cannot do, or more to the point what we should or should not do with our military. Are we done with the idea of nation-building? Are we dropping the idea that the US Navy should have unchallenged superiority in every ocean? Are we moving toward more use of drones, more use of long-range missiles, fewer foot soldiers? Are we willing to say that we will never have to invade and occupy another nation? Are we prepared to renegotiate security arrangements with other countries?

  8. john personna says:

    Those are the things you’d need to do to cut to the bone, Michael, and in my opinion are not political hurdles we can jump.

    Better to get the heck our of Irag/Afghanistan and enjoy the peace dividend for what it is.

    (We could also reduce Homeland Security and roll it into an accountable FBI. The only reason the FBI didn’t handle homeland security (no caps) was that they’d lost trust and accountability. Perhaps that was something that couldn’t be fixed in the heat of 9/11, but surely now …)

  9. mike says:

    cutting health benefits at a time when we are implementing gov’t health programs for everyone else? – health benefits and early retirements are a big reason many serve 20 years – talk about a morale killer esp with the optempo where it is – this will just shift the cost of health care to another budget provided by the feds.

  10. Pug says:

    With a budget deficit of $1.47 trillion looming this year and next, it is time to look at a lot of things to cut, including the military. What will happen, though, is politics.

    Military spending is out of control. Entitlement spending is out of control. The Republicans and the Democrats will square off and dare each other to just try to cut either of them. Any politician who proposes cuts in anything will be attacked for wanting to leave our country defenseless or starve children and old people, depending on the proposal.

    The American people will demand that entitlements be paid, the military not reduced one iota and that taxes not be raised. If they don’t get their way, politicians will pay the price.

    It will take a crisis in the bond market. When we finally reach the limit, some cuts will be made and some taxes will be raised. Not before.

  11. just me says:

    Good example is the navy and the big deck carriers. Could we do with fewer and/or smaller ones?

    I am not sure about smaller, but I don’t think you can go for fewer unless you change the goals of what you want the Navy to do.

    Fewer carriers would mean longer and more frequent deployments, and the deployments are stressful enough. My husband served during peace time, during the draw down, and he was already at sea a lot, I can’t imagine how long the sea time would be, if there were fewer carriers (unless they changed the mission of what they wanted carrier groups doing and where).

    But one thing I often wonder about is more consolidation of the services-is there a way to consolidate some things so that each branch isn’t separately training for them. Not sure if it would save money, but does every service branch need to have planes and helicopters? Is there some way to consolidate at the very least the education and training, rather than fund separate training for each branch?

    It just seems like the military has a lot of repetition in what each branch does, and I wonder if money could be saved if everyone learning to be a medic/corpsman trained in the same place.

  12. mike says:

    we could draw down and consolidate if we let the military do military stuff and not everything that congress dreams up. nation building, occupying, and now on the border (but not doing any real “military” stuff but rather something that could be done more cheaply/efficiently by the BP) is not what we need a standing army for. but if we continue to give the military everything under the sun, then I don’t see how we can consolidate.

  13. Herb says:

    “Chump change, my friend, chump change”

    Agreed, although let’s be real, Doug, “Bob Jones” has a bit of an honesty problem; his objections to the NEA and the DOE are NOT related to cost.

    We could go over the accounting all we want, but if his objections are “liberal indoctrination at public schools” and “blasphemous artists,” pointing out that these things cost very little is going to hardly be persuasive to someone who thinks lying is a proper substitute for rational argument.

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***Chump change, my friend, chump change***exactly, to rich artists, why don’t we let them pay for it out of the goodness of their harts?

    ***We could go over the accounting all we want, but if his objections are “liberal indoctrination at public schools” and “blasphemous artists,”***

    Two good reasons to cut the funding for this crap without even bringing up the budget, a very rational argument.

    ***pointing out that these things cost very little is going to hardly be persuasive to someone who thinks lying is a proper substitute for rational argument.***

    Lying you say, go to the start of these programs, add up the costs till now, then divide it by what it by has been produced. Ha, but you can’t because you have an indoctrinated world view.

    Rational arguments indeed.

    Let’s start with a serious strategic review, decide what we can and cannot do, or more to the point what we should or should not do with our arts and education system. Are we done with the idea of nation-building? Are we dropping the idea that the public education system should have unchallenged superiority in every city? Are we moving toward more use of drones, more use of long-range, indoctrination? Are we willing to say that we will never have to invade and occupy another curriculum? Are we prepared to renegotiate education arrangements with other systems?

    Thanks Harry, your thoughts were very useful, in more ways then one, props!!!!

  15. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    In an age where we are certain to need all the miltiary might we can muster. It is probably not in our best interests to cut the budget on the most essential job of our Government. Russia and China are building new offensive systems. Iran will soon have nuclear weapons and a way to deliver them. What good are social programs if we are no longer free?

  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    John:

    I don’t think it’s about cutting to the bone. I think we have to start with the core question of what we propose to do with the military, what our strategic interests are, and what threats we face over the next decade or two. Procurement and R&D and training all take avery long time. It takes a long time to design a new jet and it takes a long time to build a sergeant. So we need to think about what we need in terms of men and materiel.

    I dislike the idea of deciding more or less randomly that we don’t need two of our carriers, for example, until we’ve thought about what we need in context. Maybe we can cut four carriers. Or none. Let’s think before we make decisions. Maybe it’s time to fold the Air Force back into the Army, or increase the size of the Marine Corps. Or abandon manned aircraft altogether, or build an all-stealth Navy.

    If we jump into this without thinking it through e’ll end up wasting more than we save.

  17. anjin-san says:

    What good are social programs if we are no longer free?

    Not sure what your point is here skippy. Obama has been in office for going on two years, hence you have already been a slave for a while. I am surprised you can event type, what with the chains, the blindfolds and the Acorn agents with guns trained on you.

  18. tps says:

    “I am not sure about smaller, but I don’t think you can go for fewer unless you change the goals of what you want the Navy to do.

    Fewer carriers would mean longer and more frequent deployments, and the deployments are stressful enough. My husband served during peace time, during the draw down, and he was already at sea a lot, I can’t imagine how long the sea time would be, if there were fewer carriers (unless they changed the mission of what they wanted carrier groups doing and where).”

    Exactly my point. What goals do we want the military to be doing? Define them and then build the force around it. If we need a lot of carriers, then we build them as the old ones retire. If we want to use them as crown jewels that we keep close to home until they’re needed then so be it.

    I do agree with you about the duplication of things. A big thing would be to standardize all the aircraft we use. That way each service wouldn’t have to have ‘their’ aircraft. For a time in the late 60’s/early 70’s the standard fighter/bomber for the US were variants F-4. The POS F-35 is suppose to be the equivalent but it won’t work. Could we do it again? Maybe but we won’t try.

  19. just me says:

    Could we do it again? Maybe but we won’t try.

    I don’t think we would try. Not to mention the various service chiefs would howl at the very idea of trying to standardize or combine anything, but I am not convinced we need all the duplication we have between the various services. It is something that would have to be studied.

    My feeling with defense cuts is that they need to be smart with the actual goals of what we want to use our military for. I think part of the problem with the draw down in the 1990’s was that we just decided to cut stuff, without really considering if that cut helped the goals of the military.

    I don’t think cuts should really be on the table until the goals and mission of our military have been clearly defined and every cut should be made with that goal in mind.

  20. tom p says:

    OK folks, let us start from the fact that the US of A spends TWICE on defense what the rest of the world combined does.

    This only makes sense if one can get the rest of the world to agree on anything (other than the fact that they all hate the US of A)

    The American Prospect said,

    ***We spent $655.8 billion on defense in 2009 more than double the $306.1 billion spent in 2001. $By comparison, Social Security spending rose by just over 50 percent during these years from $429.4 billion in 2001 to $677.7 billion last year.***

    I am sure there are other #’s out there, but do the math… Defense is out of control, especially in proportion to the threat.

    Mind you, one WILL have to piss off a few Repbulicans to get it under control… I mean, a few stateless actors are SOOOO much more of a threat to our country than the USSR…..

  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    tom p:

    Obviously, yes, we spend way more than is rational.

    However, we’ve taken on a set of obligations — to control all the oceans right up the territorial waters of individual nations, to defend South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, to defend Europe, to maintain the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf, not to mention Afghanistan. . . It’s a long list. No other country has a list remotely like ours.

    So the first thing to do is look at that list. Figure out what we are no longer going to do, and what we are still going to do, and then configure our forces accordingly.

  22. Brummagem Joe says:

    This is long overdue. The Defense budget is around 700 million and represents roughly half of total world military expenditures. It’s also one of the largest sources of corporate welfare in the country as we well know from the armies of lobbyists that descend on Washington when it’s proposed to cut a weapons program. Shutting down these totally pointless wars would be a good start. So far Iraq has cost around 900 billion and Afghanistan 350 billion so were spending approximately 150 billion a year on these adventures (their real cost compared to previous wars since WW 2 is completely staggering if you take a look at the above chart) or over 20% of the defense budget. Otherwise Doug you’re right. The country is dotted with military bases that serve little or no purpose other than supporting local communities and providing a contingent for their July 4 parades but shutting them and reducing accretion of manpower they have created is easier said than done.

  23. just me says:

    Tom have you read the discussion.

    Since we are spending too much, what/where would you cut since you think cuts can be made without any thought being put into it?

  24. tom p says:

    ***However, we’ve taken on a set of obligations — to control all the oceans right up the territorial waters of individual nations, to defend South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, to defend Europe, to maintain the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf not to mention Afghanistan. . . ***

    Michael, you mention Afghanistan almost as an afterthought… It doesn’t even seem to occur to you that we were doing all these things you mention (except Afghanistan) quite well on half the money, pre-2001.

    The question to me is, where is the money going?

  25. tom p says:

    Fair enuf Just Me.

    Going with what Michael has on his list, I would start with halving our defense forces in Europe. There is no real military threat to them and it is time we stopped subsidizing their economies by underwriting so much of their defense.

    Cut our Carrier Task Forces in half (now 11?). If I recall correctly, Mr Gates said the rest of the world does not have even one. This does not mean “longer deployments”, it means deployments that are focused on OUR national security, not the rest of the worlds.

    I would continue the S korea/Japan defense (they are mutual) simply because N Korea is a looney and they are both major economic partners.

    Maintaining the flow of oil thru the Persain Gulf is not a military mission, it is a diplomatic/economic mission. All the military might in the world could not keep the Gulf open if the Iranians (or any other nation with the means) decided to close it. All it would take is mines and they have them. We should follow the example of the Chinese and exert our will thru financial means.

    Speaking of the Chinese… How does the defense of Taiwan enhance our national security?

    Afghanistan: If it had been up to me, we never would have invaded. 9 yrs ago I said this is where we would end up and I take little joy in being right. Considering that in order for Afghanistan to POSSIBLY become a success it will take a 20-30 year commitment and we just plain and simply cannot afford that (fiscally, or politically) I would get out now.

    There is more, alot more, as I have put a considerable amount of thought into it.

  26. Wayne says:

    Military spending seems to always be the first and last place the government ever cut.

    Then we get caught without equipment and personnel that we need or a horror story about a VA hospital. Or a disaster happens and we don’t have the personnel and resources to deal with it. Then there is an outcry by the people. The politicians become shock and throw a bunch of money at it which much of it ends up being wasted.

    How many of you were outrage by lack of body armor, up armored vehicles, lack of military personnel, etc not all that long ago?

    I know history repeats itself but this is getting ridiculous.