House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., left, speaks with Senate Budget Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday Nov. 13, 2013, at the start of a Congressional Budget Conference. House and Senate budget negotiators say they’re not close to an agreement but plan to keep at it. “We’re trying to find common ground but we’re not there yet,” said Ryan. He said Republicans and Democrats have spent lots of time in the recent past airing their differences but it’s now time to find a way to strike an accord. “The hard part is figuring out where we agree,” Ryan said. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The sense of bipartisanship in Washington D.C. appears to be back, but that may not be such a good sign. Just two months after being applauded for showing cooperation and fiscal responsibility in a long overdue budget deal, members of the U.S. House and Senate quickly reverted back to what they know best.
Congressional leaders this week scrambled to restore previously agreed to cuts to military pensions that will now be “offset” by extending sequestration cuts for Medicaid and other domestic programs for an extra year.
While nixing the cuts certainly wasn’t unjustifiable – many, including local veterans and officials such as U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, equated it to correcting a broken promise – the method sends the wrong message.
One of the caveats of the budget deal brokered by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., was that lawmakers shouldn’t pay for additional funding for defense by cutting non-defense programs. This negates that compromise.
The Pentagon was actually already one of the clear winners in the budget agreement. The defense budget outpaces non-defense discretionary spending by $28 billion in the deal. Wasteful spending can undoubtedly be found in the military’s $520.5 billion budget that doesn’t even include spending for defense-related programs such as the VA and Homeland Security.
Belt-tightening measures are needed across the board in Washington, but Congress’ ability to skirt a difficult choice seems to always rear its ugly head.
Although the needs of the men and women who sacrifice for our country shouldn’t be overlooked, the blazingly fast response by Congress to restore a one percent reduction in pensions with a cut in non-defense spending doesn’t bode well for other entitlement reforms such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
Finding wasteful spending in the Pentagon’s budget would have long-term benefits for our all-volunteer military.
Those savings could also be reinvested in ways that makes the most sense to those that have had their boots on the ground instead of pet projects for defense contractors and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
This shift should also not be seen as the country being weak on defense. Even former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican appointee, has repeatedly stated that military costs are unsustainable and criticized the Pentagon’s “culture of endless money.”
Policy makers should never lose sight of the need to take care of those that protect us. But a culture of wasteful spending and unnecessary bureaucracy ultimately harms not only the military, but also the nation’s long-term health and vitality.