When I heard there would be new military cuts last week, I was encouraged. Many conservatives were outraged.
I was irritated they were outraged.
The United States desperately needs to spend less and reduce its debt. Last week reminded us that when it comes to Pentagon spending, conservatives act like liberals.
When Rep. Paul Ryan attempted to reform entitlements in 2011, Democrats said he was trying to push grandma off a cliff. Democrats screamed that Republicans were trying to “gut” Social Security and “destroy” Medicare.
Keep in mind that the US spends more on its military than the next ten nations combined. Our 2012 Department of Defense budget was almost 100 percent of the budget deficit that year.
Should we try to reduce some of this military spending? Hell no, say Republicans.
In 2011, Paul Ryan rightly recognized that Social Security and Medicare in their current forms are inefficient and unsustainable. Something has to change with these programs that is more in line with what we can afford and what Americans actually need.
The notion that our military might be inefficient, unsustainable, cost too much or goes far beyond today’s practical national security needs, is something many conservatives dismiss out of hand. They equate the amount of money we spend on the military with its efficiency and quality, a calculation conservatives reject when it comes to education, welfare, healthcare and basically any other part of the domestic economy.
This is not to say that every aspect of Obama’s proposed cuts is desirable. There’s no reason why the United States can’t have a leaner, meaner military machine that also adequately pays its members and provides the proper benefits. We must do everything to protect our soldiers and continue to debate the details of the proposed cuts.
But conservatives, if they are serious about smaller government, need to stop pretending the military should be shielded from any and all cuts. That debate should be over. As Senator Tom Coburn has noted, if you’re looking for wasteful government spending, the Pentagon should be the first stop.
Too many Republicans have an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to the mere idea of Pentagon rollback, in the same way Democrats jump to defend the Department of Education anytime conservatives suggest we could do more with less. Conservatives take a distinctly liberal view of Pentagon spending they pass off as “pro-military,” in the same way the left pretends lobbying for teachers unions is somehow good for education.
The inability of conservatives to consider cutting military spending is also a problem for two other significant reasons.
To say that America should be a global leader with the strongest military on earth is something most conservatives can agree on. To say that we should continue spending ourselves into oblivion to maintain a foreign policy status quo that no longer makes sense, really should disqualify one from the conservative label. This is liberal thinking.
Second, the only way Republicans will ever convince Democrats to agree to domestic cuts or reform is for Republicans to make concessions on military spending. This is a practical political reality for anyone who wants to reduce spending across the board. It’s the only way to arrive at compromises that mean less spending, as opposed to the usual bipartisan agreements that grow government.
Conservatives’ inability to seek military cuts is the reason conservatives have been so ineffectual in cutting anything, ever.
The sequester caps—the tea party’s singular legislative accomplishment and the first significant cuts in a very long time—were discarded in the last budget precisely because so many Republicans were eager to protect the Pentagon. To the credit of a minority of Republicans, it was a cadre of tea party conservatives who held the line and fought to keep the sequester caps in place.
Congress has proven itself completely untrustworthy to cut spending on its own volition, so the sequester forced them to. Still, at various times, the old Republican playbook was used to villainize these mandatory cuts. Remember when Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were telling voters in the 2012 presidential election that Obama wanted to “gut the military?” They were talking about the sequester.
In 2011, Senator Rand Paul proposed a budget that would’ve balanced the budget in five years and reduced the national debt by $4 trillion. It was exactly the kind of small government agenda that virtually every Republican tells voters they want to enact.
Paul’s budget failed 7-90 in the Senate.
Though every “yea” vote was a Republican, when Senator Lindsey Graham was asked why he wouldn’t support Paul’s budget, he replied, “I’m not going to vote for any budget that reduces defense spending by over 40 percent. And I’m not going to vote for any budget that reduces our defense capabilities at a time we’re under threat.”
Graham’s reasoning for voting against Paul’s budget wasn’t much different than most other Republicans, then and now—we have to “protect” the military.
Of course Rand Paul’s budget included Pentagon cuts. Any budget that is serious about cutting spending cuts will include military cuts.
It’s called math.
Those freaking out now over the concept of our military being reduced to pre-World War II levels should remember that President Obama has also consistently had the largest military since WW2. A Pentagon audit in 2011 found $70 billion in waste. The DOD wastes billions more on non-military projects.
Conservatives who can’t see the necessity or wisdom of rolling back the Pentagon will never cut spending. They can talk about cutting, they can campaign on it, they can promise it to voters—but they don’t mean it. They never have.
If we are serious about making government smaller, Democrat fear mongering should not be matched by Republican fear mongering. Last week, such shrieking was in full force.
And whether they realize it or not, conservatives who honestly believe Pentagon cuts mean we are “gutting” the military, are, in effect, forever gutting any hope of bringing this government down to size.