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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cutting the Federal Budget

In today's issue of The Boston Globe there is an OpEd by Joshua Green on Defense spending.  Mr Green is billed as Senior Editor of The Atlantic.

Mr Green makes the point about the need to cut spending and notes that Defense spending is discretionary spending, discretionary being as opposed to "entitlements".  On the other hand, entitlements are just creatures of the US Congress and can go away with the vote of both houses (and the signature of the President).  But, that is not the point.  Mr Green takes the Obama/Biden Administration to task for excluding Defense spending from his proposed three-year freeze on discretionary spending.

I agree that President Obama should not have excluded Defense spending.  However, I find this statement to be tactical and not strategic.  Referring to the F-35, the EFV (USMC amphibious armored personnel carrier) and the V-22, Mr Green says:
That we continue paying for these weapons makes even less sense now that terrorists, not communists, are the enemy.
The sense lacks all sense of the fact that future threats materialize because the enemy is looking for our current weakness and our political leadership sometimes decides to engage even when it previously said it wouldn't (see, for example, the Korean War).  The day before yesterday it was the Warsaw Pact armies on the German Plains, yesterday it was Iraq's Republican Guards, today it is terrorists/insurgents, but tomorrow it could be anything.

Not only could tomorrow be anything, but recruiting and training the force and buying the weapons could be a multi-year process.  Remember, not a single US "big deck" carrier fought in World War II that had not be ordered before the war.

And then there is that Jet Engine the author pilloried Rep Barney Frank for voting for.  A few decades ago having a jet engine competition was considered a major success and it save hundreds of millions of dollars, as competition drove the price down.  Tactical vs strategic.  More expensive in the short run, but less expensive in the long run.

Unmentioned is personnel costs.  I am not saying bring back the draft, which would be a terrible and inequitable decision.  I am suggesting that pay raises do not need to be going up as quickly as they are, especially in a time of economic turbulence.  We are out of the pit where young Service members were paid a terribly small amount of money.

What we are doing is not hedging our bets against a future war that does not look like Iraq or Afghanistan.  We are saying we have enough C-17s and F-22s.  But, once we shut down the production line it will be near impossible to procure more—and at this point they are cheap.

For a couple of years when I was teaching at the National War College I ran the NWC Defense Budget exercise.  It was a terrible thing to do to the students.  At the end of the day they had to cut, and they had to get agreement across their seminars.  They did better when they developed both a current and a long range strategy before they reached for the ax.  That is a real bummer.

Here is a plug for one defense reform organization:
The group, The Sustainable Defense Task Force, encompasses the political spectrum — from Barney Frank, on the left, to Ron Paul, on the right — along with a host of military reformers. They share a belief that unrestrained military spending is a danger to the budget, and to the country. And they make a persuasive case that we can spend less without sacrificing security.
Barney Frank and Ron Paul together.  They may be on the right track.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Actually, I think the Vice President is not really part of the Administration, except to the extent that he is invited to sit in or even given some task.  The Vice President is part of the US Senate, just like Vice President Cheney said.  However, I find folks using the phrase Bush/Cheney Administration and there should be some form of legitimate reprisal against such people.

5 comments:

kad barma said...

That "VP is part of the Senate" argument is immediately perverted by any implication of powers beyond what it spelled out in the Constitution. Powers not spelled out in the Constitution are enjoyed by the PEOPLE, not officers of the government. Cheney's power grab is one of the most dishonest and deplorable incidents in our history, and just because he may be on the side of better sense to point out that the VP isn't part of the Executive Branch according to the Constitution, he's dead wrong to say that anything beside presiding over the Senate and joint sessions of Congress is in the job description.

ncrossland said...

I think that applying the term "discretionary" to Defense spending is a dangerous form of sematics. Taken very literally, as many have today and in the past, the term implies and empowers legislative and executive branch members to exercise their discretion to put defense funding in other "more important" (read that "politically beneficial") programs. At some point, that mindset places the country in a particularly vulnerable position that may well be unrecoverable. It is, at the very least, a calculated risk....kind of on the order of BP drilling deep water oil wells.

The workhorse strategic bombing platform in use today as our primary strategic weapons system was put on contract on 13 Feb 1946.
It has been in operational service since 1955. We currently have less than one Wing of B-2 weapon systems and only 2 Wings of BONEs. Our newest fighter is assigned to only three Wings the rest of the Wings being made up of an early 1960's technology (the F-15) and the F-16 which was first designed in mid 1970. When the US Air Force needs to airlift outsize loads, it must contract with Russia to use the Anatov 124. The front line AF tanker system is based on the Boeing 720-B airframe design, a design abandoned by the airlines and the rest of the world in the early 70's.

It is "discretionary" spending that has kept the AF....and the Army, Navy, and USMC decades behind the techology power curve.

Cheney's so-called grab for power is no more obscene than that being currently exercised by Obama..just a different flavor. Moreover.....it is only a part of a much larger problem

Jack Mitchell said...

The CM is fond of saying, 'As things get worse, the demand for City services goes up.'

I'm a believer in the fractal nature of politics.

Right now, I have some boot straps. It's nice to know there is a loner pair out there, should mine snap.

On DOD spending, I lean with Cliff. The long view is costly. But, the expense of shortsightedness is incalculable. That is not to say we should plump up for every continency. A sensible risk analysis should define the probable from the possible.

Unfortunately, those that hawk the wares tooled for "the possible" are not inclined to demure. They have a fiduciary to extract from the public coffers, what they can.

Let's not pretend that those on The Hill have been proper stewards. Meaning stewards for us, the taxpayers.

Not sure how this message plays in the Bay State. Between Raytheon,GE, et al. we are up to our necks in the MIC.

C R Krieger said...

I agree with Kad that the job of the VP is narrowly defined and consists in presiding over the Senate and joint sessions.  But, that is sufficient.  And, the current VP, Mr Biden, is no Betty Boothroyd.

I think all of us would agree that Congress is the problem.  The only thing I would add to Jack's comment is that when we say MIC we should always remember that Academia is sucking down an awful lot of that money.

Regards  —  Cliff

ncrossland said...

And now so are the Indian casinos, witness the well known Indian gambling destination in CT that just got $56 M of the stimulus money....apparently their $1.6B gross isn't stimulating enough for them.....both CT Senators and all of their House delegation were in breathless concurrence of the approval of the funds.

The whole place has gone NUTS!!!