Rebuttal of the lie that “defense spending has been off the table so far”

The opponents of a strong defense haven’t given up in their campaign to gut defense under the pretext of balancing the federal budget. Even though defense has been cut several times since President Obama’s inauguration, and more times earlier, they still claim that that defense spending has been “off the table so far” and that it has been shielded so far not only from cuts, but even from scrutiny and examination. Everytime defense spending is cut, defense’s opponents still come back for more cuts and still claim that defense spending has been immune from cuts, or “off the table”. But they’re lying. Defense spending has NEVER been off the table. An example is the January 2011 letter that the leaders of a number of pseudoconservative libertarian organizations sent to House and Senate leaders at that time:

The 112th Congress, tasked with a clear mandate to cut spending, must look to not only cut spending now, but permanently arrest the bias towards the careless wastefulness, bred of cronyism, that has plagued Washington for too long. To that end, lawmakers must dismiss the erroneous assumptions that have led to sacrosanct budgeting; no longer can select departments and programs enjoy protected status in the appropriations process. Conservatives should enthusiastically reject the notion that any area of the federal budget should be protected from examination. Attempts to isolate departments or programs from scrutiny undermine any serious efforts for positive spending reform — for this and many generations to come. Any policymaker determined to cut government spending must commit to keeping spending cuts in all departments on the table — whether efficiencies can be realized in the Department of Defense or the Department of Education, they must all be considered fair game in the battle to instill fiscal prudence in federal spending.

Al Regnery, The American Spectator
Bill Pascoe, Citizens for the Republic
Bob Barr, Liberty Guard
Brian Burch,
Chip Faulkner, Citizens for Limited Taxation
Christopher Preble, Cato Institute
Chuck Muth, Citizen Outreach
David A. Keene, American Conservative Union
Duane Parde, National Taxpayers Union
Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform
Jim Martin, 60 Plus Association
Joe Seehusen, Liberty Guard
John Tate, Campaign for Liberty
Karen Kerrigan, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council
L. Brent Bozell, Media Research Center
Lewis K. Uhler, National Tax Limitation Committee
Lisa Miller, Tea Party WDC
Matt Kibbe, Freedomworks
Mattie Corrao, Center for Fiscal Accountability
Richard Viguerie,
Rick Watson, Florida Center-Right Coalition
Seton Motley, Less Government
Susan Carleson, American Civil Rights Union
Tim Phillips, Americans for Prosperity
Tom Giovanetti, Institute for Policy Innovation
Tom Schatz, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste
William Greene,
Thomas Whitmore, Washington DC Tea Party
Institutional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.”

This is completely false.

Firstly, the DOD has NEVER enjoyed “protected status in the appropriations process”, let alone shielding from “examination” and “scrutiny”.

Defense spending has NEVER enjoyed “protected status” and does not enjoy such status now. It has been dramatically reduced in real terms, and as a percentage of GDP, numerous times during the last 65 years alone: year-on-year during the late 1940s, during the 1950s (after the Korean War), during the entire 1970s, and during the entire 1980s (actually, from FY1987 until FY2002, when defense spending grew slightly for the first time since FY1986). And even during periods when the Congress did not reduce total defense spending, it did close or cut many crucial weapon programs – even during the Bush era when the Comanche, XM2001, E-10MCA, and J-UCAS programs were closed and many other weapon programs (e.g. the F-22, F-35, Zumwalt class and San Antonio class programs) were significantly reduced. During FY2010 and FY2011, the Congress closed or cut over 50 DOD weapon programs. In January 2011, Robert Gates achieved another 178 bn in savings. Then, in August 2011, President Obama signed into law a debt ceiling deal which orders the DOD to cut its core budget by another 450 bn (Obama has increased that goal to 487 bn) and in November 2011, the Super Committee triggered a sequester which will cut the DOD’s core budget by another 600 bn over a decade. (Under the sequester, the DOD, which has already contributed far more to deficit reduction than any other government agency, will have to bear 50% of the cuts even though it accounts for merely 19% of the federal budget.)

And that will not be achieved by mere “efficiencies”, it will mean drastic cuts in personnel numbers, modernization programs, the force structure, and benefits programs for the troops, which means breaking faith with them. As the Wall Street Journal has recently rightly noted:

“The Administration’s record to date is undeniable. Defense was targeted from day one in office, and Mr. Obama disguised his latest, steepest retrenchment as part of a new “strategic review” earlier this month.”

The bottom line is that defense spending has NEVER enjoyed “protected status”. Not this fiscal year. Not during the previous fiscal year. Not during the Bush era. Not ever. The claim that “defense spending continues to enjoy protected status” is a blatant lie.

Moreover, the idea that the DOD does not deserve protection from budget cuts or that defense spending is just another line item in the federal budget like education spending, is wrong, despicable, and un-conservative. Defense is the #1 Constitutional DUTY of the federal government, and one that is currently underfunded (the core defense budget, 526 bn, amounts to just 3.59% of GDP). Federal education spending, on the other hand, is unconstitutional.


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