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Republicans realized the unseriousness of such a plan. Considering Democrats retain majority control of the government–control which has resulted in the Democratically-controlled Senate tabling 15 separate jobs bills passed by the Republican-controlled House and a failure to produce a federal budget in over 900 days–Republicans would be naive to think Democrats would negotiate in good faith, when not negotiating at all and allowing their own triggers to take effect would grant them most of what they want.
Thus, the odds of reaching a compromise, though better than they were last week, are only marginally so. Perhaps sensing the seriousness of acquiescing to the automatic triggers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) met for 40 minutes in Boehner’s office on Tuesday. After the meeting, Reid was the more pessimistic of the two. “So far I have not seen any indication Republicans are willing to agree to this balanced approach,” he told reporters. Boehner was more optimistic. “I’m convinced, that if in fact there is an agreement, that it can in fact pass,” he said, after meeting with his party members.
Which party has the most to lose politically if they can’t reach a deal? A recent Pew Survey is all over the place, but one of the main themes that emerges is that 60 percent believe that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed greatly to the debt, compared to only 24 percent who believe increased spending for domestic programs is to blame. Thus it would appear that cutting military spending, in spite of dire warnings, is a political winner, with Democrats likely being perceived as the victorious side.
Is it a winning hand? As of now the military has already absorbed $450 billion in cuts from the $7 trillion it was expecting over the next ten years. The failure to reach a deal would double that number to at least $900 billion or more. The result? “Such a large cut, applied in such an indiscriminate manner, would render most of our ship and construction projects ‘unexecutable’–you cannot buy three quarters of a ship or a building–and seriously damage our modernization efforts,” Panetta wrote to lawmakers. “We would also be forced to terminate most large procurement programs in order to accommodate modernization reductions that are likely to be required.” Panetta added that ten years of such reductions would result in a U.S. military with “the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.”
The American Left seeks to downplay Panetta’s predictions, noting that such cuts would only reduce spending by the Pentagon to 2007 levels. In 2007, the federal government spent $2.73 trillion, including $594 billion for Defense and Homeland Security. In 2010, the federal government spent $3.7 trillion, including $658 billion for the military. An obvious question arises: if spending for national security can be reduced to 2007 levels, why can’t entitlement programs or the entire federal budget be reduced to 2007 levels?
As the Pew Survey reveals, such an idea is likely a non-starter for a public that has simultaneously grown weary of war and increasingly fond of entitlement programs. (In 2007 Social Security cost $581 billion and health care $568 billion. In 2010, Social Security cost $715 billion and healthcare cost $726 billion.) They would no doubt prefer cutting military spending than reducing entitlement spending.
Such a perspective is dangerously skewed. Ironically, it is skewed by the fact that, currently, Americans don’t feel particularly threatened by our nations’s enemies–due in large part to the enormous success of our military. Yet as 9/11 demonstrated, such a perspective could change in a single day. This raises the ultimate question: are Americans willing to accept a heightened level of risk that another day like 9/11–or worse–could occur, in order to reserve more funds for entitlement programs?
Americans need to remember that all budgetary issues are secondary to maintaining the freedom and security guaranteed by America’s fighting forces. We gut the military at our own peril. To paraphrase Leon Panetta, all the entitlement programs in the world won’t amount to anything if we “shoot ourselves in the head.”
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