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Defense spending fuels the deficit crisis

Since the start of the 112th Congress, the U.S. House Republican majority – with its dozens of new Tea Party members – has been telling the American people our country is “broke.” During the budget debate, Tea Party Republicans argued the unprecedented fiscal crisis demands huge spending cuts to vital programs and investments that make our communities strong. Then, starting with H.R. 1, House Tea Party Republicans voted overwhelmingly for massive cuts to food safety, public safety, education, life-saving health research, roads and bridges, clean energy alternatives, and nutrition for hungry children and nursing mothers.

Rep. Betty McCollum
Rep. Betty McCollum

Cut $650 million from emergency nutrition assistance for hungry infants and mothers? Tea Party Republicans said yes. Cut $35 million from food safety and food inspectors that keep families healthy and safe? Tea Party Republicans said yes. Cut $1.3 billion from community health centers for the poor? Tea Party Republicans said yes.

But when the $649 billion Pentagon funding bill for Fiscal Year 2012 reached the House floor, Tea Party Republicans’ dire fiscal warnings and collective eagerness to cut government spending disappeared. Instead they turned on the spending spigot to full blast.

Numbers tell the story
The numbers tell this expensive story. The Tea Party Republican majority passed a $17 billion increase to the defense budget while slashing funding for everything else. At $649 billion, the Pentagon’s budget amounts to more government spending than all other federal agencies combined. This price tag also accounts for over 50 percent of all unrestricted spending in the federal budget. In fact, this level of spending approaches 45 percent of global defense spending, almost as much as every other country on the planet combined!

Tea Party Republicans talk endlessly about deficit reduction, cutting government spending, shrinking government, and cutting investments benefiting middle and low-income families, but defense spending continues to grow.

Tea Party Republicans claim defense spending increases are essential for national security. But Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen doesn’t agree. He believes the Pentagon has not been forced to cut unnecessary or ineffective spending. Earlier this year, Chairman Mullen said, “…with the increasing defense budget, which is almost double, it hasn’t forced us to make the hard trades. It hasn’t forced us to prioritize. It hasn’t forced us to do the analysis. And it hasn’t forced us to limit ourselves…”

Rapid growth
Since 2001, the Pentagon’s budget increased by 70 percent. The enormous size and rapid growth of the defense budget means that any member of Congress who is not working to slow defense budget is not serious about deficit reduction.

The fiscal crisis facing America makes eliminating unnecessary spending, ineffective programs, and wasteful tax breaks essential. There can no longer be sacred fiscal cows – including the Department of Defense.

I scoured the 2012 defense budget to identify spending cuts that would promote fiscal responsibility without compromising national security. In other words, how do we cut the extras, not the essentials?

Three amendments
During debate on H.R. 2219, I offered three amendments to accomplish this goal. The first one cuts $124.8 million from the Pentagon’s $324.8 million budget for military bands. The second one cuts $150 million for the military’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which has the Pentagon starting business ventures in Afghanistan, including sourcing cashmere for New York fashion designer Kate Spade. The third amendment limits military recruitment spending on subsidies to private motorsports companies such as NASCAR and the National Hot Rod Association to $20 million, down from an estimated $63 million.

Military music. Mission creep. Corporate welfare. That is what my budget cuts targeted. The $320 million in savings from my amendments are modest by Pentagon standards, but, in the midst of a fiscal crisis, I feel a responsibility to cut every dollar of spending that is not central to the military’s core mission of protecting Americans.

Some Tea Party Republicans dismissed my cuts as insignificant reductions in the context of the overall budget. But that is not the “every dollar counts” approach they took when slashing funding investments in America’s families and communities. Tea Party Republicans justified their $35 million cut to food safety by arguing it was imperative for deficit reduction. Cutting $40 million in handouts to NASCAR racing team owners and millionaire drivers will not diminish military recruitment or undermine our national security. We must protect essential investments that keep America strong and then focus our spending cuts on the extras we can no longer afford – including taxpayer funded NASCAR sponsorships.

The latest debate on defense spending should be a wakeup call for America. Without support for reduction in defense spending, it will be almost impossible to put the country back on a sustainable fiscal course.

Rep. Betty McCollum represents Minnesota’s Fourth Congressional District. She serves on the House Appropriations and Budget Committees.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/15/2011 - 11:28 pm.

    Ms. McCollum, I appreciate your efforts, and along with many Americans, I see the nonsense and duplicity of the Tea Party Republicans’ chicanery. There is nothing to be done about these Tea Partiers in the immediate present, but their influence will inevitably decline.

    I encourage you to aim for larger defense reductions, and based on a somewhat different rationale, namely that the current use of our military is contrary to the national interests of the United States. Although it will not appeal to the right wing hardliners at present, in future it may help a great deal.

    Here are a few things that are “…not central to the military’s core mission of protecting Americans.”:

    – The adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan do nothing whatsoever to protect us. They have harmed our national interests in manifold ways. In my opinion, and using your definition above, these escapades are completely outside the core mission of the military. In addition, their costs can be viewed as the most immediate and significant contributors to the current budget deficit.

    – The more than 28,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in South Korea have a reasonable purpose, considering their neighbor and the fact that hostilities between South and North never officially ended. But please examine the current purpose of more than 52,000 military personnel in Germany and more than 35,000 in Japan. What is that purpose, anyway? These force levels are not merely current – this has been going on virtually since WWII. The expense over these decades has been enormous. Are they protecting us? From what?

    – Is our foreign policy, and in particular our policy of projecting military power over most of the globe, the solution to – or the CAUSE of – threats real or alleged to our national security? What do we expect other peoples and nations to think of us when we bomb an entire wedding party because our military believes a couple of attendees were enemies? Or when we fly our drones in the sovereign airspace of another nation over its protests? Or when we go to war for false reasons?

    – The new policy of using armies of mercenaries (civilian contractors) to provide logistical support has become an elbow-to-elbow trough-feeding by U.S. corporate vendors, who now use political influence to keep their place at the trough, and I believe, to promote policies which keep our nation engaged in war after war. The “business of war” is a very profitable business indeed. We should make it less so.

    – What is the cost of the strategy of “Full Spectrum Dominance”? Is there any limit to its hunger or its costs? I mean, when can such a goal be fully satisfied, anyway? Is this really in our national interest?

    – Finally, and broadly, I believe our national policy of exerting dominance everywhere does not make us safer at all nor advance our security. Are we safer now due to the Iraq war? Is $120 billion a year in Afghanistan buying us any safety or security?

    So cutting funding for military bands is fine, go for it. NASCAR and Hot Rod Association? They can go too.

    But please: we need to get to the more fundamental issues in the military budget. If we need to cut trillions, here would be a great place to start.

    With the current Republican majority in the House, your proposals for cuts and a re-examination of our policies won’t get much traction at present. But we really need your voice, along with others, to prepare the way, so that 5 or 10 years from now, a significant change in our foreign policy as it relates to the role of the military and its expenditures can take place.

    We need this to happen – it is in our national interest!

  2. Submitted by AISHA DACOSTA-PAUL on 07/16/2011 - 01:03 am.

    Rep. McCollum,

    You are absolutely correct! The inconsistent voting habits of Tea Party Republicans is a tell-tell sign that the interests of the American people is not their top priority. The party was organized due to outrage about government spending, Wall Street bailouts and the stimulus package yet the voting habits of their elected representatives slap fiduciary responsibility in the face and appear more reckless and harmful to the growth of this country than anything else.

    The American people need to question the motives of elected officials that vote for massive cuts to food safety, public safety, education, life-saving health research, roads and bridges, clean energy alternatives, and nutrition for hungry children and nursing mothers while in the next breath increasing the defense budget beyond what the CJCS deems necessary to sustain military operations.

    In my humble opinion, when voters stop voting along party lines and start to pay attention to the quality of political candidates (to incl. Congressional representatives) parties will be forced to supply candidates of higher quality once they know voters will vote for the best candidate regardless of party affiliation. Unfortunately now, too many voters are not educated about the issues, the impact of policies, and the job performance of their current Congressional representatives.

    Again, great article. I appreciate the work you are doing in office for this country.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/16/2011 - 07:43 pm.

    I don’t understand why Betty’s so anti-military. The Cold War’s over. We defeated the soviets.

  4. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/17/2011 - 08:14 am.

    Actually, it was the Saudis. At Reagan’s urging they opened the oil spigots, tanked the oil price and with it the Russian economy. There was also some help from all the useless spending on SDI by both sides. The Russians had less money to waste than we did.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/17/2011 - 09:02 am.

    Those old leftist university professors have had a hard time accepting the truth, haven’t they rolf?

  6. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/17/2011 - 12:48 pm.

    #4: Good point.

    The Russians also had their champions of military supremacy in disregard of any and all costs. They used political influence, fear, and a good old boy network to hog an inordinate amount of their national wealth, just like our military and security apparatus.

    Like the U.S., whose top experts were stunned at the Soviet collapse, they did not understand their opponent very well. They could have saved a lot of money and kept the USSR alive if they’d realized that there is no way the U.S. could attack them militarily – the risk was too great.

    Then, too, they stumbled into a war in Afghanistan with very little idea of what they were actually getting into.

    See what all this got them?

    Doesn’t it all sound familiar?

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/18/2011 - 07:43 am.

    The only way to achieve true fiscal discipline: Learn arithmetic

    Not many people want to spend the time learning about the specific options or making the choices that would be necessary in order genuinely to solve the budget situation, even though a couple of useful websites make it relatively easy to think through the alternatives (NYT or PPC).

    But the proposition that we could eliminate the budget deficit through sufficiently drastic cuts in domestic spending is so far out of line with reality, that the point can be made easily to even the most innumerate congressman. Here is the arithmetic.

    Total federal spending is $3 ½ trillion in round numbers. That spending number minus tax revenue left a budget deficit of $1.3 trillion in fiscal year 2010.

    The arithmetic in fact works out quite simply. Of the $3 ½ trillion in federal outlays, just under 1/5 is non-defense discretionary spending. Another 1/5th is defense. Social security is the third 1/5th. Medicare is the fourth 1/5th (slightly less now, but far far more in the future). The last 1/5th is interest on the debt (which will also grow enormously in the future) plus other entitlements. Numerically speaking, we would have to eliminate not just all non-defense discretionary spending, but also all defense. Or else all social security spending (but we would have to continue somehow collecting the payroll taxes that are supposed to fund it!). Or else all Medicare spending. The unmistakable implication is that a solution to our long-term fiscal problems will have to involve some sharing of sacrifice among each of these five categories. And increased tax revenue as well.

  8. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/18/2011 - 02:37 pm.

    Steve Titterud (#1) says it all very well.

    We are not making friends or encouraging democracy when we invade country after country in search of “terrorists.” When the citizens of those countries object and organize resistance movements, we call their fighters “terrorists” and call out the drones to target them in their homes. In the middle of the night, when they and their families are asleep.

    Then, to tell countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan when they complain about civilian deaths that we will NOT end our drone attacks but that we will continue to apologize (!!!) must be a real slap in the face.

    Our foreign policy needs an overhaul. Desperately.
    And it must include the closure of all those unneeded bases around the world — the ones that benefit only defense suppliers — and the repeal of the act authorizing the War Against Terror and its excesses.

    Many thanks to Betty McCollum for taking this on and getting whatever spending reductions she can. Perhaps others will follow her lead.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/19/2011 - 07:21 am.

    I agree with you Bernice. Hillary Clinton has been the worst secretary of state this nation has had in the past 100 years. And when you consider she’s only carrying out the Obama foreign policy, that makes Obama the architect of her failure.

    Neither should be re-hired in 2012.

    Betty, however, is harmless because she has no clue but neither does she have any power.

  10. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 02/19/2012 - 02:33 pm.

    For all the talk of our trillions of dollars of defense spending keeping us safe (and the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions were mostly fought with borrowed money, euphemistically referred to as “off budget”), the only attack on U.S. soil since World War II was carried out by a criminal gang using 1950s technology (passenger jets).

    We need to step back and look at what the real threats are. Countries that want to be left along to run themselves along systems that are different from ours are not a threat. Countries that say nasty things about the U.S. for domestic consumption are not a threat. Countries that used to have hostile governments but no longer do are not a threat. Countries that our allies don’t like are not a threat. Countries that have dictatorial governments that we don’t like (as opposed to countries that have dictatorial governments that we do like, e.g. Saudi Arabia) but which do not threaten their neighbors are not a threat. Distant countries that do threaten their neighbors usually have other neighbors who will keep them in check.

    When I look at the wars and military adventures after World War II and possibly Korea, I see wars that were fought for reasons of economics, no matter how much military recruits are indoctrinated into believing that they are “defending freedom” and “serving their country.”

    Look at who the “enemies” are now, the countries that get bad-mouthed in the press on a weekly basis: Venezuela and Iran. What do these countries have in common other than loudmouth leaders? Oil. They’re both sitting on lakes of oil. Never mind that there are plenty of countries around the world whose governments are much worse. These two are the bad guys of the moment. Before that, it was Saddam Hussein, also head of an oil-rich country.

    Instead of spending trillions, yes, trillions on blowing up other countries or surrounding them with military bases, we could spend the same money reducing our dependence on oil by exploiting renewable energy and converting our economy to more energy-efficient modes of production and transportation.

    But the greedheads in the military-industrial complex, the people who bankroll both the Republican and Democratic parties, would never allow it.

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