The lies of Marcy Kaptur on and the mistaken “defense must be on the table” premise

The left-wing website has recently published several opinion pieces on defense spending written by several members of Congress. Unfortunately, all of these opinion pieces are, to various degrees, wrong, and – as you might guess – written by very opinionated people.

There is, however, a difference between them.

The only error (albeit a big one) made by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and HAC Chairman Bill Young (R-FL) in their respective opinion articles is that they, like almost all other members of Congress, have accepted the false premise that “defense spending has to be on the table” and that the US supposedly cannot solve its fiscal problems without including defense in talks and cutting defense spending. Graham even ridiculously claims in the title of his opinion piece that “the military can do more with less”.

Other than that, however, what Graham and Young wrote makes sense. Certain savings can be made (albeit they must be reinvested in military capabilities), and Graham has outlined ways to make them. Furthermore, Graham and Young are very clear about the need of avoiding cuts to the “muscle” of the US military – the tail. Furthermore, Young warns that:

“While nothing has changed over the past two years in relation to the threats to our national security or the continuing degradation of our military equipment from the 10-year global war on terrorism, our national defense budget faces a 25 percent cut should the supercommittee fail to reach an agreement. These arbitrary cuts are not based in reality, given the underlying threats to our nation and our military’s ability to counter them — threats that can be determined only by maintaining the most effective and accurate intelligence programs. (…)

As chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I will ensure the defense of our nation is based on the threats we face — not politics. We cannot allow our nation to repeat the mistakes from the past. (…)

Let’s make sure during this economic crisis — when every federal agency and every American is being asked to do more with less — we protect our nation smartly while recognizing the very real threats we face and not be influenced by political motives or concerns.”

Politico also links to a Denver Post article wherein military veteran Mike Coffman, the Representative for Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, outlines the three reforms he deems necessary to cut DOD spending without hurting the military: shifting from a COIN strategy to a counterterrorist strategy, closing foreign bases and bringing thousands of American troops home, and expanding the National Guard and Reserve to save personnel costs, which, as Coffman acknowledged, are eating the defense budget alive, to borrow words from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates:

“Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates repeatedly warned Congress that if the trajectory of personnel costs continues to rise, it will crowd out the acquisition budget for weapons and equipment, ultimately running the risk of turning our military into a hollow force. Gates likened this situation to our European NATO allies who have the personnel but lack the necessary weapons and modern equipment to be an effective fighting force.

The best way to reduce personnel cost is to expand the size of the National Guard and Reserves in exchange for commensurate, conditions-based reductions in our active- duty components in order to achieve a significant cost savings.”

These three members of Congress have clearly done some hard thinking about how to reform the DOD without harming the US military. It’s just too bad that they want the resulting savings to be used to pay for the budget deficit, instead of being reinvested in military capabilities, and that they’ve accepted the ridiculous “defense should not be exempt from budget cuts” principle.

But that’s my only beef with them.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s ridiculous screed on is, however, a completely different issue.

That entire screed is ridiculous and idiotic, as well as poisonous. Titled “Smart defense cuts possible”, it claims that “the US can retain it’s role as the world’s leader” while cutting the defense budget, and both of these claims are blatant lies. Smart defense cuts are not possible, because there is no such thing as “smart defense cuts”. It’s an oxymoron. ANY defense cuts hurt the military and make the country less safe, and therefore are dumb, not smart.

And the article is as dumb as its title suggests. Dumb, ridiculous, and wrong.

While paying lip service to the need for a strong defense and the principle that the US must have a strong military even during the present time of fiscal crisis, the article calls for numerous deep cuts that would, with one exception (the proposal to cut the cost of DOD contractors) dramatically weaken the US military and, as a result, make America much less safe.

Kaptur also makes false pretexts (lies) for defense spending cuts, claiming that

“We know that every dollar the U.S. has spent in Afghanistan and Iraq has been borrowed, adding $1.4 trillion to the national debt, or approximately 10 percent of its total.

No department has matched the growth of the Defense Department over the past decade. The defense budget, which totaled approximately $286 billion in 1999, now exceeds $700 billion, accounting for more than half of total global security spending.”

All of these false pretexts (claims) are blatant lies.

Firstly, it is not true that “every dollar spent in Afghanistan and Iraq has been borrowed”. Not even one dollar spent in Afghanistan and Iraq has been borrowed. The wars being waged in these countries are funded from federal tax revenue (which amounts to $2.2 trillion per year), not borrowed money. The US borrows money to fund its ever-growing welfare state, including entitlement programs (which already consume 63% of total federal spending), not the GWOT.

Secondly, the claim that the US defense budget amounts to “over $700 per year” is also false. The TOTAL US military budget actually amounts to $662 bn under the FY2012 CR (and will be reduced to ca. $644 bn if the Senate Appropriations Cmte. has its way). It consists of:

a) a core defense budget of $530 bn (which will be reduced to $513 bn if the SAC has its way);

b) a GWOT supplemental of $118 bn; and

c) a DOE defense activities budget of $14 bn.

In total, this amounts to $662 bn. Not even close to “over $700 bn”.

Thirdly, the claim that the US military budget amounts to “more than half” of the world’s military spending is a blatant lie. It actually amounts to 42%, according to the SIPRI.

Fourthly, the claim that the US defense budget was $286 bn in 1999 is also a lie, because that figure is in 1999 dollars, i.e. it is NOT adjusted for inflation, which erodes the value of the dollar over time. The value of the dollar has shrank significantly since 1999.

According to the DOL’s Inflation Calculator, $286 bn in 1999 dollars amounts to $389.50 bn in today’s money, which means that the defense budget was not as small as Kaptur claims.

Still, it was small, and what Kaptur conveniently neglected to mention, as a Democrat, is that it was dramatically inadequate, as was widely recognized by then by many members of Congress, think tank members, analysts, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who testified unanimously on the inadequacy of the Clinton defense budgets in 2000.

The FY1999 defense budget was wholly inadequate and is not a model for anything. It is not something worth returning to. The late 1990s were a nadir of the Clinton defense cuts. Comparing current defense spending levels to those of the late 1990s is like comparing America’s WW2 military to that of the Jefferson years.

The claim that the DOD’s budget’s growth over the last decade was huge and unprecedented and unrivalled by any other agency is also a blatant lie. The current core defense budget is $530 bn (under the CR). The FY1999 defense budget was, as stated earlier, $389.50 bn. The difference is $140.50 bn. In other words, the core defense budget has grown by only 36% since FY1999 – over 12 fiscal years.

The agency that has seen the biggest budget growth since FY1999 is the one that has currently has the biggest budget – the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which has an annual budget of almost $900 bn. The SSA had a budget of $730 bn last FY.

The proposals that Kaptur makes are, with only one exception, unacceptable, because they would all significantly weaken the military and and, as a result, make America dramatically less safe. Here they are, with my comments below each proposal:

“Cost overruns — Our subcommittee has taken the Pentagon to task over the 80-plus major weapons systems that are over budget. Moving forward, any program that fails to meet cost, production and quality goals is liable to have its funding cut, redirected or provided on a contingency basis.”

That would mean de facto termination (or a cut) of almost all DOD weapon programs. That absolute standard is an impossible standard to hold DOD programs (or any government programs) to. By the way, when is Kaptur and the rest of the Congress going to hold nondefense programs to the same standard? So far, defense programs are being held to an exceptionally high standard, higher than nondefense programs. The DOD has been singled out for disproportional treatment. Certain weapon programs are so important that they must be pursued regardless of the cost and the delays. The F-35 program is an example.

Instead of threatening to cut or cancel crucial modernization programs, the Congress and state legislatures should cut or cancel expensive domestic programs, such as high-speed-rail boondoggles, such as California’s HSR program, whose total cost has tripled and as a result, California taxpayers are now being asked to spend $100 bn on a project that will not see a single wheel turn for the next 22 years, if ever. (

“Contractors — I wrote in POLITICO in May that the DoD should rein in the overuse of military contractors. The budget impact is unconscionable: The DoD’s fiscal year 2012 budget proposed spending $87.6 billion on contracted services, a $23.7 billion (38 percent) increase from the previous year.”

This is the only savings proposal of Kaptur’s that I agree with. But the amount cited here pertains to the entire military budget, not just the core defense budget. Moreover, I believe that any savings made in the DOD (including savings on contractors) must be reinvested in the DOD.

“” Regarding Kaptur’s proposal to cut the nuclear arsenal:

This is ridiculous. America’s nuclear arsenal and the arsenal of strategic delivery systems is already underfunded, obsolete, degenerating, and too small. Yet, Kaptur wants to cut spending on it further. America’s nuclear arsenal should be increased, not cut. Moreover, it is so cheap to maintain that any cuts of it will yield only tiny, microscopic “savings”.


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