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  • Defense Spending: What Would Reagan Do?

    In his State of the Union address to Congress, President Obama acknowledged the problems of massive deficit spending and mounting debt and offered a general plan that he said would restore fiscal health. It includes cuts to the defense budget. With two ongoing wars, numerous asymmetrical threats to our security, and the depleted state of our military, it’s appropriate for Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the new Congress to ask if this is prudent.

    In yesterday’s Washington Times, Heritage Vice President Kim Holmes considers what Ronald Reagan would do about this fiscal crisis. No doubt he would have wanted the Department of Defense to operate efficiently and without wasting taxpayers’ money. But nothing, Holmes says, suggests that Reagan “would have mortgaged America’s future by slowing military modernization or reducing the size of the armed forces exclusively to save money.” On the contrary, Reagan told his military planners that defense was not a budget issue and they could spend what they need to assure that we won whatever wars we were in.

    Today, the U.S. military is worn out from 10 years of constant conflict and in great need of modernization. Cutting the defense budget would only exacerbate these problems.

    This doesn’t mean we can’t find any waste and inefficiencies in the Pentagon budget. In fact, Heritage analysts have identified a great deal of waste and duplication that could be eliminated, with the funds plowed back into the defense budget for modernization.

    The dangers posed by deficit spending and an exorbitant national debt cannot be overstated. But we simply can’t ignore the threats we face that demand a world-class military. As Holmes points out, we’ve been here before, and we’ve turned things around. We can learn from Ronald Reagan, who “let the threats, not the bottom line, determine defense spending.”

    Scott Nason is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to Defense Spending: What Would Reagan Do?

    1. West Texan says:

      I agree with Scott's message. Defense is the federal governments primary delegated role. And the elected social progressives have failed miserably, all while they extort their way into states' domestic affairs.

    2. West Texan says:

      A better statement would have been " … all while they [coerce] their way into states’ domestic affairs." The extortion comes by way of the fed's 16th amendment upon the states' residents.

    3. Gabriel says:

      more missles, more wars, more guns, more violence. rah rah rah!!!

    4. George Colgrove, VA says:

      What would Reagan do?

      When Reagan entered office the National Debt was $907 Billion (1980). In today’s dollars that would be $2.725 Trillion (1/5th the debt we have today). Annual Federal spending was at $591 Billion (1980) in today’s dollars that would be $1.774 trillion. Defense spending was $168 billion (1980). In today’s dollars that would be $504 billion. When he left office he increased the defense budget only $130 billion (only a 25% increase in today’s dollars). The total increases in defense spending over his 8 years was only $680 billion. Moreover, he did effectively modernize the military with that spending during that time. The DoD was responsive to the publics interests and the DoD was frugal. They were not building luxurious edifices for its civilian workforce. Finally, his civilian workforce was underpaid for the jobs they performed.

      Considering Reagan’s displeasure for government in general and his wishes to depower the federal government, he would have been opposed to the current behavior of the very political wing we now call the DoD. The DoD endorsed START, it is eliminating good stuff for bad stuff. It is calling elimination of needed military hardware as efficiencies. The DoD is about as secretive as it has ever been, yet is so large and bloated, that there is no way to control the people in it. Day-to-Day business costs soar over the day when Reagan was in office. Today the DoD is building enormous luxurious office spaces that only the most wealthy companies have done in the past and cannot afford to do now. It has a protected and coddled civilian workforce paid up over twice what their counterparts in the private sector would be paid.

      Defense spending in today’s dollars has (at least since 1974) hovered around $470 billion. Whenever we needed to ramp up for modernization or for war, we have done so, only to bring it back down to the $470 billion baseline. The maximum defense spending prior to the recklessness that is going on in DC today was $637 billion (in today’s dollars) in 1987. Bush (41) and Clinton brought the spending back down to the baseline by the late 1990’s. Since 2000, the post 9/11 federal government threw out frugality and went with all guns firing from a defense budget of $470 billion in 2001 (in today’s dollars) up to this year’s proposed $929 billion – just shy of a few bucks of doubling the defense budget in 10 years! That is not what Reagan did!

      Under Reagan, the national debt (in today’s numbers) rose $2.3 trillion in 8 years. Under Bush 43 and Obama (the biggest spenders ever) the debt rose $7.7 trillion. The clowns in the DoD received over $2.6 trillion in added defense spending (in today’s dollars) since 9/11 – four times as much as Reagan provided and we are constantly being told the Military is strapped for cash and has not been able to modernize in the last 10 years? What happened to the cash?

      No, Reagan would not have allowed the mess that is a reality today to have happened. He would have used restraint, he would have not increased our national debt to the degree it was been done, and he would have made the DoD accountable. He would have been frugal. I think history would show that Reagan would have pulled in the reins long ago. During his presidency, the federal budget climbed from $1.8 trillion to $2 trillion (in today’s dollars) – only $200 billion. Since 9/11, the federal budget went from $2.4 trillion up to $3.8 trillion (in today’s dollars) – a climb of $1.4 trillion! No, Reagan would not have allowed this to happen.

    5. George Colgrove, VA says:

      Here are some things he has said over time:

      “Are you willing to spend time studying the issues, making yourself aware, and then conveying that information to family and friends? Will you resist the temptation to get a government handout for your community? Realize that the doctor's fight against socialized medicine is your fight. We can't socialize the doctors without socializing the patients. Recognize that government invasion of public power is eventually an assault upon your own business. If some among you fear taking a stand because you are afraid of reprisals from customers, clients, or even government, recognize that you are just feeding the crocodile hoping he'll eat you last.” – Ronald Reagan -October 27, 1964

      “It's time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, "We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.” This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power, is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.” – Ronald Reagan -October 27, 1964

      “Public servants say, always with the best of intentions, ‘What greater service we could render if only we had a little more money and a little more power.’ But the truth is that outside of its legitimate function, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector.” – October 27, 1964

      “The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing.” – Ronald Reagan -October 27, 1964

      "The fact is, we'll never build a lasting economic recovery by going deeper into debt at a faster rate than we ever have before. It took this nation 166 years until the middle of World War II to finally accumulate a debt of $95 billion. It took this administration just the last 12 months to add $95 billion to the debt. And this administration has run up almost one-fourth of the total national debt in just these short 19 months." – Reagan Mar. 31, 1976

      "When a conservative says it is bad for the government to spend more than it takes in, he is simply showing the same common sense that tells him to come in out of the rain." – Reagan Feb. 6, 1977

      It is not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work — work with us, not over us; stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.” Ronald Reagan -First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981

      "Can we, who man the ship of state, deny it is somewhat out of control? Our national debt is approaching $1 trillion. A few weeks ago I called such a figure, a trillion dollars, incomprehensible, and I've been trying ever since to think of a way to illustrate how big a trillion really is. And the best I could come up with is that if you had a stack of thousand-dollar bills in your hand only 4 inches high, you'd be a millionaire. A trillion dollars would be a stack of thousand-dollar bills 67 miles high. The interest on the public debt this year we know will be over $90 billion, and unless we change the proposed spending for the fiscal year beginning October 1st, we'll add another almost $80 billion to the debt." - Ronald Reagan Feb. 18, 1981

      “We don't have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven't taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much” – Address to National Association of Realtors, March 28, 1982

      “The government is like a baby’s alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.”

      “We must not look to government to solve our problems. Government is the problem.”

      “The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much.”

      “Government does not tax to get the money it needs; government always finds a need for the money it gets.”

      “Are you entitled to the fruits of your labor or does government have some presumptive right to spend and spend and spend?”

      “Have we the courage and the will to face up to the immorality and discrimination of the progressive tax, and demand a return to traditional proportionate taxation? … Today in our country the tax collector's share is 37 cents of every dollar earned. Freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp.”

      "The government's view of the economy can be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."

    6. George Colgrove, VA says:

      Historical Spending Data since President Ford to Obama.

      These values have been adjusted to today's (2011) value of money.



      to see how this was calculated.

      [ Year ] US GDP | Deficit | Fed Budget | Defense

      [ 1974 ] $ 7,355 | $ 2,331 | $1,322 | $483

      [ 1975 ] $ 7,237 | $ 2,357 | $1,469 | $487

      [ 1976 ] $ 7,391 | $ 2,513 | $1,506 | $464

      [ 1977 ] $ 7,772 | $ 2,676 | $1,567 | $466

      [ 1978 ] $ 8,246 | $ 2,774 | $1,649 | $471

      [ 1979 ] $ 8,560 | $ 2,762 | $1,684 | $481

      [ REAGAN YEARS ]

      [ 1980 ] $ 8,369 | $ 2,725 | $1,774 | $504

      [ 1981 ] $ 8,604 | $ 2,639 | $1,794 | $512

      [ 1982 ] $ 7,800 | $ 2,739 | $1,788 | $532

      [ 1983 ] $ 7,980 | $ 3,110 | $1,826 | $557

      [ 1984 ] $ 8,600 | $ 3,440 | $1,864 | $589

      [ 1985 ] $ 8,846 | $ 3,824 | $1,985 | $620

      [ 1986 ] $ 9,030 | $ 4,303 | $2,006 | $636

      [ 1987 ] $ 9,411 | $ 4,670 | $1,995 | $637

      [ 1988 ] $ 9,782 | $ 4,991 | $2,042 | $634

      [ REAGAN YEARS ]

      [ 1989 ] $10,100 | $ 5,264 | $2,108 | $633

      [ 1990 ] $10,197 | $ 5,684 | $2,203 | $602

      [ 1991 ] $ 9,994 | $ 6,113 | $2,209 | $535

      [ 1992 ] $10,152 | $ 6,506 | $2,212 | $558

      [ 1993 ] $10,361 | $ 6,856 | $2,191 | $535

      [ 1994 ] $10,690 | $ 7,080 | $2,206 | $508

      [ 1995 ] $10,903 | $ 7,314 | $2,230 | $480

      [ 1996 ] $11,213 | $ 7,474 | $2,233 | $453

      [ 1997 ] $11,572 | $ 7,518 | $2,224 | $452

      [ 1998 ] $11,938 | $ 7,502 | $2,244 | $439

      [ 1999 ] $12,498 | $ 7,558 | $2,275 | $446

      [ 2000 ] $13,011 | $ 7,419 | $2,340 | $469

      [ 2001 ] $13,006 | $ 7,343 | $2,356 | $464

      [ 2002 ] $13,090 | $ 7,661 | $2,474 | $519

      [ 2003 ] $13,489 | $ 8,212 | $2,615 | $585

      [ 2004 ] $14,044 | $ 8,733 | $2,714 | $643

      [ 2005 ] $14,563 | $ 9,141 | $2,849 | $692

      [ 2006 ] $14,932 | $ 9,480 | $2,960 | $693

      [ 2007 ] $15,201 | $ 9,727 | $2,947 | $705

      [ 2008 ] $15,170 | $10,490 | $3,133 | $767

      [ 2009 ] $14,429 | $12,018 | $3,560 | $804

      [ 2010 ] $14,858 | $14,008 | $3,781 | $910

      [ 2011 ] $15,299 | $15,144 | $3,834 | $929

    7. Bobbie says:

      the freedom to self govern was proven successful in this country. Income has little to do with it. Poor people were just as expected to carry out their civil responsibilities to freedom as anyone elses income, until government started inducing an opposing view but only for government growth and control. The poor do with less because they have less but not less of freedom which is always equal when proper leadership respects it. It's best government do their job and we the people, take care of our own. The less government, the more freedom. The more government, the weaker and more enslaved, the people.

      • William says:

        I would suggest that poor people have paid a higher price in their support of freedom and their civil responsibilities then the wealthy have since the start of the Vietnam war. A disproportionate number of poor people have fought in every major conflict since then, and have paid a higher price. Income has had a lot to do with it. Both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would have been over a long time ago had there been a draft that included the sons of wealthy Americans. I also suspect that you are not the descendent of a slave who might argue that the "less government, the more freedom" is complete hogwash.

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