Denver Post Editorial Board
Congressional Republicans are expected to begin debate soon on proposed budgets they’ve released in recent days in the House and Senate. Since this is the first time during President Obama’s tenure the GOP controls both chambers, its budget plans carry more meaning than before.
Like all budget documents in recent years from both parties, these two include their share of wishful thinking and suspect assumptions — as well as agenda items that simply will not get by Obama’s desk without a veto.
For example, both plans count on savings from repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the expansion of Medicaid adopted by many states, but those are non-starters.
Oddly, the plans also rely on taxes imposed by the ACA to help close the deficit over the next 10 years — even though the ACA would supposedly be repealed.
Nor are Republicans united around every detail of their plans, with defense spending being a sticking point. A growing number of Republicans, as well as some Democrats, want to boost Pentagon spending ostensibly because of what they consider growing threats abroad.
The House proposal, for example, would boost military spending from about $523 billion to more than $600 billion, while Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is leading a bipartisan plan in the Senate to boost Pentagon spending to $570 billion, according to The Washington Post.
The president himself would hike defense spending by a significant amount, too — $38 billion above the present statutory caps — along with big increases in spending that would provide a wide array of domestic programs.
Unfortunately, these efforts at a major boost in defense spending are misguided. Despite the modest spending restraint of recent years, the U.S. still lavishes a huge amount on the military — more than a third of all such spending worldwide.
Indeed, by some calculations, the U.S. spends as much as the next nine largest military budgets combined.
In such an environment, talk of the military being “hollowed out” by present spending limits, as the public is sometimes told, sounds divorced from reality.
To some Republicans, no amount of military spending ever seems to be enough. The only reason these hawks were willing to idle down defense spending in the early part of this decade was because tax collections had collapsed and the budget deficit was topping $1 trillion a year.
Something had to give, and discretionary domestic spending was on the chopping block, too.
Now that deficit-cutting pressure is off — only for the time being, please note — defense hawks believe the moment is ripe to strike for a big boost in spending. And they seek this increase without any corresponding reforms in pay and benefits, whose growth threatens to crowd out outlays on advanced weapons.
As Kevin Williamson of National Review points out, “We have an army of generals and more admirals than battleships.”
The budget plans for the military are a case of politicians wanting to have their cake and eat it too, rather than make difficult but needed choices.
An expanding economy is giving politicians a false sense of security regarding the federal deficit and overall debt, but long-term prospects for them remain deeply worrisome. This is no time to be blowing the lid off limits on defense spending.