THE CONSTITUTIONAL MANDATE – AT 10:53 A.M. ET: There is concern at the Pentagon, entirely justified, that the current, widespread demand to cut government spending might end up requiring irresponsible and risky cuts to the defense budget. There is a Constitutional mandate to raise armed forces. But even some so-called conservatives seem to be forgetting it.
George Will, who has been somewhat skeptical of some of our military ventures, now shares the same concerns about reckless cutting, as he reports on the worries of new Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta:
Panetta’s most immediate worry, however, is visible from the windows of his office overlooking the Potomac — Capitol Hill, where the supercommittee created by August’s debt-ceiling agreement is sitting. By Thanksgiving, either it will agree to do something important — reduce the next decade’s debt by at least $1.2 trillion — or its disagreements will trigger something important: a sequester.
This would take from military budgets nearly $500 billion, in addition to a minimum of $350 billion in cuts already scheduled. An almost trillion-dollar trimming, Panetta says flatly, “cannot take place.” Actually, he knows it can: “The gun to the head could really go off.” Even without a sequester, the military “is going to be a smaller force.” And with a sequester? The 1.5 million active-duty members of the armed services and 700,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department depend on an industrial base of more than 3.8 million persons. According to the Pentagon, a sequester would substantially shrink those three numbers, perhaps adding a point to the nation’s unemployment rate. The cuts would leave the smallest Army and Marine Corps in more than a decade and the smallest tactical Air Force since this service became independent of the Army in 1947. The Navy has already shrunk almost to its smallest fleet size since World War I.
Time was, when Democrats looked at the defense budget with a skeptical squint, Republicans rallied round it. No more. Few Tea Partyers remember Washington’s hawk-vs.-dove dramas. They live to slow spending, period. They are constitutionalists but insufficiently attentive to the fact that defense is something the federal government does that it actually should do. And when they are told that particular military expenditures are crucial to force projection, they say: As in Libya? Been there, don’t want to do that.
COMMENT: The Tea Party members have played an important role in encouraging public discussion of the federal budget. But, as Will says, too many of them "live to slow spending, period." You have to decide what to cut...and what not to. Some Tea Partiers strike me as narrow ideologues who fail to understand the consequences of their actions. They are the right-wing equivalent of the "movement" types in the Democratic Party.
Senator Lindsey Graham, when he learned of possible plans to severely cut the defense budget, said that the party of Ronald Reagan had died. I don't think that's quite so, but death is getting closer if Republicans abandon their Reaganesque support of a strong national defense to save some dollars up front. Will writes:
“The next few months,” Panetta says, “are going to tell us a hell of a lot.” But the meaning of what is told may not become clear for 10 years.
So true. And it has been so true in the past, as well, when reckless military drawdowns have ended in tragedy, and paid for in blood.
September 17, 2011