Congress already has mandated $500 billion in cuts in Pentagon spending over the next decade, and the failure of the Congressional supercommittee to reach a deficit deal earlier this year means reductions of nearly $500 billion more are supposed to kick in next month as part of the so-called “fiscal cliff” of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes.
It’s unclear whether lawmakers and President Obama will agree on a plan to address the deficit and beat the upcoming fiscal deadline. But it’s glaringly obvious that any workable agreement must include significant reductions in military spending.
That’s a prospect that until recently has deeply troubled the same Republican lawmakers who engineered the debt-ceiling crisis that forced the spending cuts. Many disingenuously blame the president for the looming cuts to military programs, which are among the government programs Republicans treasure most.
In a new development that bodes well for the prospects of a budget deal, a group of House Republicans and Democrats agreed Monday that significant cuts in military spending must be part of any budget deal negotiated by the president and Congress. In a letter to Obama and congressional leaders, the lawmakers said “substantial defense savings” can be achieved without undermining national security.
“As we transition from wartime to peacetime, and as we confront our nation’s fiscal challenges, future defense budgets should reflect the conclusion of these wars and acknowledge that our modern military is able to approach conflicts utilizing fewer but more advanced resources,” they wrote.
The lawmakers cited retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has warned that the greatest threat to national security is not cuts to the Pentagon’s budget but the national debt.
It’s no surprise that such a letter would come from 11 Democrats, including Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. But until the November election that saw Obama win a second term in the White House and Democrats pick up seats in both chambers of Congress, such a statement from 11 House Republicans would have been unthinkable.
The prospect of further budget cuts has prompted weeping, wailing and dire warnings from the four-stars, but the generals are just posturing. They understand that further reductions, including a possible $500 billion in cuts from the sequester, can be absorbed if they are made rationally and not with a meat cleaver.
No one should buy the military’s argument that the cuts seriously would threaten national security or cripple its fighting capabilities. The Pentagon has had a blank check for far too many years, and it’s heartening that at least 11 House Republicans have acknowledged that reality publicly.
With all American troops out of Iraq and Obama’s promise to withdraw the remaining combat troops from Afghanistan, it is time for a thorough evaluation of defense spending in light of the nation’s fiscal crisis, as well as an evolving global strategic environment.
Congress should work with the president and the Pentagon to craft a new military strategy — one that recognizes the need to make smarter, better use of limited resources while making certain the nation has the military might it needs to secure its vital interests.