There is an important battle going on in Congress right now that has yet to work its way through the noise about Bain Capital and Romney’s tax returns. It is a partisan battle over defense spending. And it demonstrates quite clearly the difference in values embraced by the two political parties.
At the core of the debate is $500 billion in defense spending cuts that will automatically kick in January of 2013. These “sequestration” cuts are the result of the Super Committee’s failure to reach a compromise on debt reduction. Now that these cuts are about to become reality certain members of congress are looking for any way possible to head them off.
Naturally Republicans are leading this charge. They argue that the additional $500 billion in sequestration cuts on top of the 10% defense cuts that the Obama administration has already enacted will endanger our national security. They argue that these defense cuts will add as many as 2,000,000 Americans to the unemployment rolls. They also note that money spent on defense trickles down to supporting industries like machine shops and tech firms…providing a stimulus to the economy. To cut those funds will only serve to hurt the economy.
Does anyone see the hypocrisy here? These are the same Republicans who railed against Obama’s stimulus plan and auto industry bailout. These are the same Republicans who opposed government intervention to save the jobs of teachers and firefighters and police. Let’s get this straight…government intervention to save the jobs of auto workers, teachers, firefighters and policemen while stimulating the economy…bad! But government intervention to stimulate the economy and save the jobs of the defense industry that last year reported almost $700 billion in revenues and record profits of $60 billion…good!
Hypocrisy aside, the other part of this that makes no sense is that our defense budget continues to rise while the actual use of our military forces ebbs and flows. We start by funding our military for a particular cause…to help Europe defeat Hitler, to protect post war Europe from an aggressive Stalin, to fight the cold war, Vietnam and most recently to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But when these conflicts end we never seem to roll back the funding; it just keeps building upon itself layer upon layer. In 2011 forty one percent of all money spent globally on defense comes from US taxpayers…roughly 30% of our budget. The US spends more on defense than the next top 15 countries combined. And most of them are our allies.
How does this happen? It stems from an imperialistic view of the world and a ham fisted approach as the self appointed world’s policeman. Europe is no longer in peril and the cold war is long over. Yet we continue to flex our muscle and spend our blood and increasing limited treasure on defense while other countries invest in infrastructure and education. All for the benefit of huge defense contractors who shelter their profits in offshore accounts.
Republicans like to pontificate about the evils of deficit spending. They like to demonize government involvement in private industry. But when it comes to defense spending and the private industry that supports our military they sing a different tune.
If you want to talk about austerity measures as a means of reducing the debt and deficit we can have that discussion. But for that conversation to have any substance you have to put defense spending on the table.