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  • Guest Blogger Lt Col Todd Copeland: Missions Won't Change; Budgets Shouldn't Either

    After years of deficit spending and overreaching promises made by Congress, the time has come to pay the piper. As Congress searches for areas to reduce the burgeoning national budget, there are those who clamor for cuts to defense, the largest slice of the discretionary spending pie.  While inefficiencies certainly exist in the Department of Defense which should be trimmed, let’s examine just how the DoD budget stacks up against the rest of the nation’s spending before we decide to close a ring of the Pentagon.

    The current defense budget is roughly 4.9% of GDP, the lowest ever during a time of war and below the 45-year historical average of 5.3%.  Meanwhile “mandatory” spending has increased five times faster than discretionary spending since 1965 and is projected to continue to increase at alarming rates due to the automatic increases built into the entitlement system.

    Not only is the mandatory spending trajectory fiscally unsustainable, it’s out of step with the nation’s founding priorities.  Of the 17 powers granted to Congress in Article 1 of the Constitution, six relate to defense of the nation (with the remaining powers permissive in nature).  In reality, “discretionary” spending on defense is actually “mandatory” and “mandatory” spending on programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other guaranteed government funded retirement plans is not “mandatory” at all.

    It does not make sense to slash the defense budget simply to continue paying for entitlements that are draining the coffers.  This is especially true today, a time of great instability.  The U.S. must take into consideration continued action in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat of nuclear proliferation in Iran, an unstable government in Pakistan, the recent unrest and instability in Northern Africa, increases in China’s military capability, and Russia’s modernization of its nuclear arsenal.

    The current proposals for defense spending cuts from those outside the Pentagon are eerily reminiscent of the defense cuts made in the early and mid 1990s, when Air Force personnel alone were cut by just over 30 percent and critical research and development programs took a “holiday,” all with the promise of decreased global commitments.  The response to the drawdown of U.S. forces was not stability; rather it emboldened our adversaries and thus our global military commitments increased by over 33 percent.  The military responded the only way it could, by increasing the deployment schedule to meet the required tasking and working personnel in garrison harder in order to account for the reduced manpower.

    Draw downs have had enormously negative effects on personnel deployed and have increased the utilization rates of our weapons systems beyond designed parameters.  The harsh reality is that our global requirements and commitments are not going to decrease any time soon.  As a former commander of an Air Force squadron, I can attest to the difficult task of looking those I commanded in the eye and tell them they were now required to work longer hours, when most were already pulling 12-hour shifts, in order to accomplish the mission.

    Still all options are on the table when it comes to reducing the budget, so what areas do we cut in defense?

    Some have proposed cutting modernization, as new equipment is costly and many believe the equipment on hand is sufficient to do the current job.  This view is myopic; it will lead to a larger research outlay in the future than if we continue our current modernization programs.  Military equipment is designed and developed with a certain mean time between failure and service life requirements, and we have far exceeded both on a great deal of our military equipment.  Continued modernization is a must if we are to keep ahead of the threats posed by the military modernization of China and the increased nuclear proliferation threat.

    Another proposal to reduce the defense budget is to cut more personnel and their benefits on the basis of future savings in military retirement and health care costs.  Often, what looks good on paper really isn’t in reality and is more expensive in the long run.  The Air Force is smaller now than at any time since its inception in 1947.  Not only is our equipment wearing out, but the toll on our most valuable resource, our people, is beginning to show.

    Historically the suicide rate is lower in the military than in the general population, but in 2008 that trend reversed with suicides in the military exceeding those in the general populace on a percentage basis.  The divorce rate among active duty service personnel rose from 2.9% in 2001 to 3.9% in 2010.  Both of these are indicators of stressors on the force and a further reduction of personnel will not alleviate this stress.  We will spend more money down the road on extended health care and death benefits if this stress continues.  “But we will cut our global commitments at the same time we reduce our budget and our force” some say.  I’ve heard that one before.

    Regarding retirement and benefits, the 2011 budget proposal still awaiting congressional action allocates $51.72 billion for military retirement, less than Unemployment Insurance ($83.26 billion), Food Stamps ($80.08 billion), Federal Civilian Employee Retirement and Disability ($73.39 billion) and Supplemental Security Income ($53.22 billion).  To be fair, Veteran’s Benefits are allocated $122 billion for FY2011, of which $53.24 billion will go to medical care, hospital services, and insurance programs.  If we compare that to Medicare ($498 billion) and Medicaid ($260 billion), the amount of savings by suggested cuts in this area don’t really make a large dent when compared to other government sponsored health benefit programs.

    The bottom line?  Until we achieve a more stable global defense posture, we should not reduce the defense budget over what has already been proposed by the DoD.  In today’s circumstance, even those “savings” gained by the reduction of redundancies and inefficiencies inherent in any bureaucracy must be reinvested in RTD&E, procurement and critical current equipment upgrades.

    Lt Col Todd Copeland is a Henry L. Stimson Center National Defense Fellow. He formerly served as the commander of the 509th Operations Support Squadron and as the chief of air-to-ground weapons and bomber test programs at the Headquarters Air Force, Division of Test and Evaluation.

    This post appeared on The Will and the Wallet.

    The views expressed by guest bloggers on the Foundry do not necessarily reflect the views of the Heritage Foundation.

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to Guest Blogger Lt Col Todd Copeland: Missions Won't Change; Budgets Shouldn't Either

    1. George Colgrove, VA says:

      2011 Budget: $3.83 Trillion

      Mandatory (entitlements) = $2.1 Trillion

      Defense = $0.930 Trillion

      Discretionary = $0.570 Trillion

      Debt Interest = $0.230 Trillion

      Tax “revenue” = $2.2 Trillion (Current estimated as reported by HF)

      This forces America to go into debt by $1.63 trillion this year.

      Congress so far has “proposed” cuts of $75 billion annually out of non-defense discretionary spending.

      The only item that has seen any change from the above budget is Discretionary.

      ** New Budget: $3.755 Trillion

      Mandatory (entitlements) = $2.1 Trillion

      Defense = $0.930 Trillion

      ** Discretionary = $0.495 Trillion

      Debt Interest = $0.230 Trillion

      Tax “revenue” = $2.2 Trillion (Current estimated as reported by HF)

      This forces America to go into debt by $1.555 trillion this year. Not a big difference.

      The HF promotes no more deficit spending, reduce the current deficit, and do not raise taxes. Also, HF demands that we SHALL not decrease the defense budget. HF strongly supports the $100 billion annual cuts proposed by the GOP initially and demands we pay off our interest payments first. HF recognizes the DoD wastes money – so here we go to satisfy HF:

      HF Budget: 2.2 trillion (equals revenue so no more debt spending)

      Defense Budget = $0.930 Trillion

      Discretionary = $0.470 Trillion

      Debt interest = $0.260 Trillion (roughly the HF estimate)

      Mandatory (entitlements) = $0.540 Trillion (The HF demands we cut entitlements by 74.3%)

      If the HF is successful in getting congress to abide by their proposed $300 billion in cuts, this only will increase mandatory spending to $0.750 trillion or a 64.8% cut. To follow the HF logic, HF demands we keep defense at level spending at the same time demand we cut entitlements by 64.8% at best.

      Of course, the liberals would see it this way (making the big assumption they agree to no stop deficit spending):

      Budget: $2.2 trillion (equals revenue so no more debt spending)

      Mandatory (entitlements) = $2.1 Trillion (Level spending)

      Discretionary = $0.470 Trillion (assuming they see reason in accepting the $100 billion cuts which is unlikely)

      Debt interest = $0.260 Trillion (roughly the HF estimate)

      Defense Budget = (-$0.630) Trillion (opps! that is a deficit even with no defense budget)

      We need to cut everything – including entitlements and defense. There is tremendous amounts of fraud and waste in the entitlements and the DoD. As for the DoD, we should not be wasting defense dollars issuing parking permits, buying, maintaining and managing a fleet of civilian passenger cars, open government initiatives, processing payroll and so many more of these types of functions that could go elsewhere where these tasks are also being done. No we should not be cutting field operations (soldiers and equipment), but we need to eradicate the waste and fraud and also gut the DoD civilian workforce in the DoD and shift those jobs elsewhere in the government where it makes sense. Time to prioritize!

    2. George Colgrove, VA says:

      This is the bottom line –

      We will cut if not gut everything including the DoD. We know what the libs will do in cutting the DoD. They will enhance the non-military mission of the DoD (i.e. waste) and gut the soldier ranks and defense systems. Conservatives can – at all costs – defend the current budget only to be subjected to preemptive cuts as proposed by the libs, or we as conservatives can control those cuts while maintaining strength. HF you are 100% right on everything except this item. Defense spending is at an all time high and if we do as you propose we are looking at permanent annual deficits. One day, it won't matter how much we spend. This country will fall under its debt. And if it falls, all that hardware we purchased to create that debt will fall into rogue hands. Enhancing national security means we need to start controlling our debt. We need to prioritize – we need to cut.

    3. West Texan says:

      Staying away from figures, Todd is absolutely right about the proper role of federal government. According to James Madison in his federalist commentary # 45,

      "The powers delegated to federal government … will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce. The power reserved to the several states will extend to all objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people."

      The constitution's preamble " … provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare …".

      Article 1, Section 8 " … provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States … " The 17th amendment perverted the latter provision's intended construction.

    4. Pingback: Guest Blogger Lt Col Todd Copeland: Missions Won’t Change; Budgets Shouldn’t Either | Big Propaganda

    5. Roger Baxter. Batavi says:

      While I hold defense spending as one of our nation's highest priorities, there is plenty of waste to be cut. The "alternative" engine for the F35, for example. $1B, if you can separate Jeffery Immelt from Obama's grasp (or conversely). Another $1 B and more, if you cut the Senior Staff and their hangers on by half. Why do we need so many senior staff for so few field positions?

      The article is heavy for the Air Force, which should be a retreating need in the advent of modern drones, cruise missles, and the like. We need to fight smarter, not just keep funding the SOS.

    6. EON says:

      We need to cut and gut the federal government. Defense spending on military bases in Germany and Japan just don't make sense anymore. If these soldiers are needed, they can be based in the US. Transportation times to hotzones is minimal even from the US. Cut all new spending since 2007. Use income levels to qualify individuals for social security. It was meant as a safety net. If you make over $100 grand at retirement, the $1700 per month is not going to make much of a difference. Cutting $100 billion is a joke. $500 billion would make believers out of many that our fearless leaders actually care about the future of this nation. And then they need to get out of the way so that the private economy can get moving. Appraisal rules and financing are continuing to kill the residential and commercial construction industry that was 30 percent of the economy. You can't grow the economy on small ticket consumption, unless you want everyone making $10/hour.

    7. Jim, CT says:

      Measuring defense spending against GDP is meaningless. If some new invention caused the GDP to triple this year, ought defense spending also triple in a year? To what point? Defense spending ought to be proportional to the actual threat level to the United States and no more. It far exceeds that at this time in history. We are still subsidizing the defense of South Korea, Israel, Europe, and who knows where else. We have as many aircraft carriers as the rest of the world combined. Are we planning on going to war with the rest of the world combined? Meanwhile, Congress is paying for more ships to be built that the Navy doesn't even want. This is what happens when a well funded military-industrial complex pays off some easily bought Congressman who are eager to brag about using money stolen from taxpayers to pay for jobs building ships in their districts.

      Everyone (who is sane) wants government spending to be cut. Everyone collecting a check from the government wants someone else to take the cut. The largest number of recipients are in the entitlement programs. Unfortunately, that means entitlements will be the last to be cut before the country officially defaults. I think a default within the next decade is inevitable.

    8. Joel, Cincinnati says:

      Jim our threat is actually higher than it has ever been. From many new rogue nations and groups that aren't necessarily obvious to joe public. The threat from China is Growing faster than anyone know really and they are trying to begin to assert themselves or project power throughout the world. Russian influence and their opposition to us is growing again and they are looking as a country to regain their prominence.

      The only true thing that we should be spending our tax dollars on is three fold; defense, infrastructure, development and the regulation of businesses from state to state and internationally (keeping a level playing Field not running business as they are trying to do lately) Limiting it to these things would dramatically decrease the government power influence and our tax bill not to mention putting the proper place on where our federal government should be in our society.

    9. West Texan says:

      Jim wrote "Defense spending ought to be proportional to the actual threat level to the United States and no more."

      Although the spirit of your statement is appreciated, the reality is lacking. A good defense means preparing for unknown and future threats. That means staying well ahead with the best training, manpower, equipment and technology. America has learned hard lessons from past under preparedness.

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