Guns or Butter?
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Defense spending is not what is breaking the bank

To follow up on Uncle J’s “Guns or Butter” post, I present a single chart that gives a lot of perspective to the whole debate:

Defense spending


Certainly many jobs will be lost, but you have to ask, if full sequestration happens, what will “lowest since before WWII” as shown on the chart actually mean?

Quite frankly, a “hollow force” (source HASC):

  • Naval Fleet of 230 ships, the smallest level since 1915
  • The smallest ground force since 1940
  • Smallest tactical fighter force in Air Force history
  • 100,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen separated from service
  • Loss of more than 1 million private sector jobs
  • Loss of more than 350,000 active-duty and DOD civilian jobs

It will mean the military will have to “make due” in an increasingly hostile world:

Many of the Air Force's aerial refueling tankers predate human space flight. Training aircraft are twice as old as the students flying them. The F-15 fighter first flew 40 years ago. A-10 ground-attack planes were developed in the Carter years. And all of our B-52 bombers predate the Cuban missile crisis.

Then there's the Navy, which is the smallest it has been since 1916. At 286 combat and combat-support ships, the Navy today is less than half the size it reached during the Reagan administration. And what about those men and women who have been fighting America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001? They're losing 100,000 in active duty personnel. Surely some will go from the front lines to unemployment lines as a result.

No one questions the need to cut military spending.  No one argues that DoD can’t do better.  Certainly no one argues that there aren’t savings to be found in the defense budget.

As the largest employer in America, the Department of Defense should not be off the hook for belt-tightening. Everyone loves to hate the Pentagon's broken acquisition system, for good reason. The emphasis on contractors often masks the government's contribution to spiraling costs and schedule delays. And this takes the pressure off leaders to change the way the Pentagon buys not weapons but services. Of the roughly $400 billion the military spends on goods, services, information technology and commodities each year, more than half goes to services. A reformed process would emphasize competition, reduce congressional regulations, restore the authority of service secretaries, and accelerate programs for completion in seven years or fewer.

Other key reform initiatives include a long overdue review of the Pentagon's nearly 800,000 civilian workers. While private industry has been shrinking throughout the recession, the Pentagon's civilian workforce has grown by 10% since 2009. This and other factors (such as the bureaucratic effect of "jointness," or collaboration between the branches of the military) have bloated the ratio of contractors and support staff to warfighters.


But sequestration will be the second round of defense cuts, the first having already been mandated and put into effect by the Obama administration. We’re talking cuts of a trillion dollars or more.

Those of us that have been around for a few presidencies have seen this game played before.  The money “saved” went down a rat hole and then, when everyone realized how hollow our force had become, we had to play catch up which was infinitely more expensive than maintaining a good and credible force.

National defense is not something any president should be playing politics with.  It is one of the few Constitutionally mandated and authorized expenditures.  Yes – make appropriate and reasonable cuts and clean up the system.  Yes – look for savings and root out waste, fraud and abuse.

But do it intelligently and as a part of an overall plan or strategy.  This, however, is not a good reason:

It's clear that Mr. Obama prioritizes sundry domestic spending programs over the defense budget. That budget "is so big," he said last July, "that you can make relatively modest changes to defense that end up giving you a lot of head room to fund things like basic research or student loans or things like that." He added later: "A lot of the spending cuts that we're making should be around areas like defense spending as opposed to food stamps."

A) a trillion dollars across the board in cuts is not a “modest change” and B) national defense should always be the priority of any Commander-in-Chief, not gutting it for domestic welfare programs.


Twitter: @McQandO