By John Glaser
It’s true that the devil is in the details. It is especially true, though, with legislative budgets. I wrote earlier about the Pentagon’s suggestions for $45 billion in cuts to its own budget and how much of it targets the bloated benefits plans for members of the military.
Yay for cutting the defense budget. But the details are not so encouraging (as one would expect).
For example, “the Pentagon apparently still intends to retain 11 aircraft carriers, possibly cutting into modernization of the Navy’s surface combatant ships,” explains Cato’s Chris Preble. “As had been reported earlier, the venerable A-10 attack aircraft is going away, but the Pentagon remains committed to the troubled F-35.”
The proposal was reported as one that would shrink the U.S. army to pre-WWII levels. Needless to say, that is disingenuous. Yes, troop levels will go “from a post-9/11 peak of 570,000″ to “between 440,000 and 450,000,” but other parts of the budget are getting a boost.
Sara Sorcher and Jordain Carney list “winners” and “losers” – or, those parts of the budget getting more money or staying the same versus those getting cut. Here are the winners:
- Special-operations forces: The military’s elite special-operations forces, which burgeoned after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and were at the forefront of the U.S. fight against al-Qaida, will increase from their current level of roughly 66,000 service members to 69,700. This is one key example of how the military, even in more austere times, is trying to protect, as Hagel put it, “capabilities uniquely suited to the most likely missions of the future.”
- Military retirement funds: While the Pentagon is offering some modest reforms to military benefits, overall, Pentagon officials have sworn off making changes to the military retirement system in next year’s budget—even though they want to curb its rapid growth that threatens to usurp other key priorities in a downsized defense budget. After the quick—and bipartisan—backlash in Congress to a provision in December’s budget agreement that cut approximately $6 billion in military pensions, Pentagon officials made it clear they would wait to propose major changes until a commission makes its recommendations in February.
- Bases: Hagel is calling for another round of base closures that could take place in 2017. The Pentagon desperately wants to get rid of its excess military bases and facilities. However, especially in an election year, the bases may escape unscathed—and Hagel knows it. “I am mindful that Congress has not agreed to our BRAC requests of the last two years,” Hagel said.
- Navy cruiser fleet: Half of the Navy’s cruiser fleet is going to be “laid up”—put in the shipyard—to be upgraded. This in some ways is a work-around, since the Navy has previously tried to decommission some cruisers, instead of providing expensive overhauls, but Congress refused. The Pentagon’s proposal is a more creative way to save some money short-term, since the ships will not be operating—but these 11 cruisers will “eventually” be returned “to service with greater capability and a longer lifespan.”
- Cybersecurity: Cyber spending—from cybersecurity to intelligence gathering and reconnaissance—will get a boost. Hagel said last week that the Pentagon is “adjusting our asset base and our new technology.”
The “losers” include cutting the Army’s force size, possibly closing bases in Europe, some military compensation, and some Air Force weapons systems. Read their full report here.
The line coming from those resisting these relatively modest budget cuts is that it will weaken the United States and its position in the world. Actually, if the U.S.’s position in the world is what you’re worried about, then cutting defense should be priority number one. The U.S. spends almost as much as the rest of the world combined on its military. And as Paul Kennedy wrote, “If…too large a portion of the state’s resources is diverted from wealth creation and allocated instead to military purposes, then that is likely to lead to a weakening of national power over the longer term.”
The U.S. is getting to the point where it’s economy can’t go fast enough to keep up with the ever-expanding needs of the state.