Shrinking Military Shows Misplaced Priorities
Last week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel previewed some significant changes coming for our nation’s military. Though the details won’t be public until President Obama releases his proposed budget, we know the size and scope of our Armed Forces will be greatly reduced. In fact, under the President’s proposal, the Army would shrink to its pre-World War II size.
Every American should be concerned about how budget cuts are affecting our Armed Forces and what that means for our national priorities. No area of the budget is immune from belt tightening and that certainly includes the military. And, with the drawdown of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, certain changes to the military are expected and, in many ways, necessary.
However, any changes to our Armed Forces should reflect national priorities, not budgetary or political circumstances. The United States must first decide what is required to protect this country and its interests, and then budget accordingly. I fear we are doing the opposite, letting limited funding dictate strategic decisions.
One of the reasons I opposed the Budget Control Act of 2011 was because of the way the bill cut a disproportional amount from defense relative to other areas of the budget. The sequestration cuts imposed by that law took 50 percent from the military when defense spending represents only 20 percent of the federal budget.
Now, the drastic military cuts most thought would be a one-time occurrence have become the new normal, and the problem is getting worse. Why? Because out-of-control spending elsewhere in the federal government continues to consume a greater and greater portion of our resources, and there’s only so much to go around.
A lot of politicians in Washington don’t like to talk about it, but the fact is unrestrained growth of “auto-pilot” social programs is threatening our ability to properly fund the military. A recent report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office outlined how, without changes to current law, mandatory spending on social programs and subsidized health care will grow at an extraordinary rate over the next 25 years, while non-mandatory spending, where military funding comes from, will shrink to dangerous levels. Mandatory spending is automatic in nature and does not change unless the law does, which is the reason behind its “auto-pilot” growth.
The CBO prediction would fulfill a decades-long trend. Mandatory spending has increased dramatically over the decades, going from about 20 percent of the budget in the 1960s to about 45 percent in the 1980s to more than 60 percent today. And, as mandatory spending has consumed a greater share of the budget, the military's portion has decreased just as dramatically.
To put this in perspective, in ten years the United States could spend as much or more on our annual debt payments than we do on national defense if we continue down this path. What kind of message does that send to our enemies or those who seek to undermine our global influence?
Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recognized how failure to reform mandatory spending would lead to military cuts, stating in 2010 that “national debt is our biggest national security threat.”
The problem isn’t limited to the military. Funding for other American priorities like transportation infrastructure, education, agriculture, or other legitimate interests is also threatened by unrestrained growth of social welfare programs.
Unfortunately, our Commander-in-Chief has failed to show leadership on this issue. President Obama’s soon-to-be-released budget proposal reportedly contains no reforms to rein in mandatory spending, despite widespread agreement that reforms are desperately needed. Too often, President Obama and his party choose to believe the falsehood that the government can somehow tax its way out of every problem.
Congress took a small step in the right direction late last year by passing the Bipartisan Budget Act, which restored some military funding cut by sequestration and made modest reforms to mandatory spending. I hope we can use that step to build momentum for more long-term reforms that help get our fiscal house in order.
The Constitution calls on the United States Government to “promote the general welfare” as well as to “provide for the common defense." We cannot allow one responsibility to continue to undermine the other.