The irresponsible defense budget reducers vs Ronald Reagan

The opponents of a strong defense have not given up. Recently, several of them have once again opened their uninformed mouths and proposed deep defense budget cuts.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has proposed a 6% reduction of the defense budget. Rep. Jan Schakowsky has called for deep defense budget cuts (which the Illinois Democrat wants to be spent on liberal sacred cows, not used to balance the budget). A DOD-accredited liberal journalist called “Yushio” has called on the DOD to implement the recommendations of the utterly-discredited Deficit Reduction Commission, calling it “serious recommendations of serious people”.

All of them are wrong.

The DRC was composed mostly of unserious people: strident liberals like Erskine Bowles (Clinton’s WH Chief of Staff), then-Senator Judd Gregg (RINO-NH) and former Senator Alan Simpson (RINO-WY), as well as the libertarian anti-defense Senator from Oklahoma Tom Coburn. Their recommendations were unserious. They targeted ONLY the DOD for serious spending reductions; all other federal agencies would see their budgets reduced only slightly, with their budget cuts all combining to produce $100 bn of annual savings, while the DOD alone would have to produce another $100 bn of annual savings. The DRC called on Obama to close many crucial programs and to dramatically reduce the categories of defense spending that shouldn’t be reduced: the procurement budget and the R&D budget. It also embraced the isolationist policy of a “Fortress America” by calling for massive withdrawals of American troops from foreign countries.

The DOD’s budget ($525 bn in FY2011) is so small (just 14.87% of the total federal budget) that even deep reductions of it would not even dent the federal budget deficit ($1.29 trillion in FY2010), but they would gravely weaken the military.

An often-asked question is “What would Ronald Reagan do?” As for proposals of defense spending reductions and other proposals to weaken the US military, the answer is crystal clear: Ronald Reagan, the military’s Defender-in-Chief, the Strong-Defense-Conservative-in-Chief, the military’s Commander-in-Chief for 8 years, would’ve said “NO!” loudly and clearly.

And during his two terms, that is exactly what he was saying. He was called on by many people and organizations to dramatically reduce defense spending in order to balance the budget or (in the case of liberals) to prop up the socialist programs that liberals cherish. And during his time, liberals and libertarians were constantly exaggerating the size of the defense budget and the scale of waste and fraud that was being perpetrated.

What did Reagan do?

He firmly opposed defense spending reductions and pointed out the facts about the real size of the defense budget and the scale of waste and fraud. He also implemented – together with his Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger – a sweeping reform of the DOD and informed the nation of its results. Even when the budget deficit was growing, Reagan rightly refused to cut defense spending to reduce the budget deficit. And when the Congress passed a significantly reduced budget deficit, Reagan vetoed it as inadequate.

As Ronald Reagan said:

“Some people may take a different view, but if I had to choose the single most important reason, on the United States’ side, for the historic breakthroughs that were to occur during the next five years in the quest for peace and a better relationship with the Soviet Union, I would say it was the Strategic Defense Initiative, along with the overall modernization of our military forces.”

Of course, as stated above, Reagan also implemented a sweeping reform of the DOD. It entailed the abolition of unnecessary stuff and the elimination of all examples of waste. Here’s what Reagan said on the subject:

“During my 1980 campaign, I called federal waste and fraud a national scandal. We knew we could never rebuild America’s strength without first controlling the exploding cost of defense programs, and we’re doing it. When we took office in 1981, costs had been escalating at an annual rate of 14 percent. Then we began our reforms. And in the last two years, cost increases have fallen to less than 1 percent. We’ve made huge savings. Each F-18 fighter costs nearly $4 million less today than in 1981. One of our air-to-air missiles costs barely half as much.
Getting control of the defense bureaucracy is no small task. Each year the Defense Department signs hundreds of thousands of contracts. So yes, a horror story will sometimes turn up despite our best efforts. That’s why we appointed the first Inspector General in the history of the Defense Department. And virtually every case of fraud or abuse has been uncovered by our Defense Department, our Inspector General. Secretary Weinberger should be praised, not pilloried, for cleaning the skeletons out of the closet. As for those few who have cheated taxpayers or have swindled our Armed Forces with faulty equipment, they are thieves stealing from the arsenal of democracy, and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Both quotes are from his February 1986 speech on defense issues. (

So, even as Reagan significantly increased the overall defense budget, he reduced the unit costs of weapons and implemented a sweeping reform of the DOD, rooting out wasteful programs and expenditures. An increased defense budget did NOT mean relaxed fiscal discipline.

10 days from now, the nation will observe Reagan’s 100th birthday. A few weeks later, it will mark the 25th anniversary of that speech on defense issues. It’s ironic that as these anniversaries are approaching, a growing number of people are endorsing or proposing defense spending cuts and other policies to weaken the US military.

If the GOP wants to restore its credibility, it must say “no” to any proposals to reduce the overall defense budget.

UPDATE: Here’s info from Dr Kim Holmes, Vice President of the Heritage Foundation, about what would Reagan do today on the question of the defense budget:


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