Conservatives should resist the siren song of the defense cut bandwagon and begin agitating for a significant increase in the military’s modernization budget.
There is a concerted left-wing political campaign to massively cut the defense budget. “A panel commissioned by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.),” for instance, “is recommending nearly $1 trillion in cuts to the Pentagon’s budget during the next 10 years,” reports The Hill.
This is not surprising. What is surprising, perhaps, is that many conservative Republicans and Tea Party members seem eager to join Frank’s bandwagon.
“If we are going to put our fiscal house in order, everything has to be on the table,” said Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference and a favorite of tea partiers. “We have to be willing to look at domestic spending, we have to be able to look at entitlements, and we have to look at defense.”
This sound so fair and so reasonable. Why shouldn’t Congress consider cutting the defense budget? After all, as GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul asks, isn’t there “waste in the military”? And shouldn’t conservatives be as diligent in policing the defense budget as they are other parts of the federal behemoth?
Theoretically, of course, this is undoubtedly true. The problem is that it is impossible to surgically isolate and cut from the defense budget “waste, fraud and abuse.” And even if this were possible, the resultant savings wouldn’t be much.
That’s because the biggest cost drivers in the defense budget aren’t weapon systems, but rather personnel costs and benefits. Indeed, “benefits consume an increasing slice of the Pentagon’s baseline budget,” notes military analyst Thomas Donnelly.
In 1985, for instance, the Pentagon spent $1.42 in weapons procurement for every dollar it spent on personnel. By 1998, that figure had been reversed: “For every procurement dollar, the Pentagon spent $1.55 on personnel,” Donnelly told Congress last fall.
Yet, what congressman is going to call for cutting military pay, benefits and health care? And what senator is going to call for reforming, along market-oriented lines, the military’s bureaucratic health care delivery system?
Answer: None. That’s why the only parts of the defense budget which invariably get cut are weapon systems and modernization. Yet, military modernization is long overdue and urgently needed.
Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are too dependent upon gear and equipment designed in the 1970s. But this was well before the information revolution transformed the battlefield and empowered our enemies in irregular, asymmetric fights.
Moreover, under President Obama, defense spending is projected to decline to an historic low (three percent) as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product in a time of war.
For these reasons, America needs to significantly increase defense spending. We need a substantially larger Army and Marine Corps; and our troops require more modern gear and equipment. Ronald Reagan understood the need for military modernization. Today’s conservatives should as well.