President Donald Trump’s declaration that he places a higher value on military spending over fiscal responsibility officially makes the GOP no longer the Party of fiscal responsibility. Thanks to Trump’s unfiltered and blunt commentary, once again, the political world can no longer pretend the GOP seeks fiscal responsibility. Like their “spend-and-tax” counterparts on the Left, “spend-and-don’t-tax” Republicans simply prioritize military spending and tax cuts above all other spending. There is no fiscal responsibility in Washington. It is a political tactic used to slow funding to liberal and moderate priories in order to divert monies to Right-wing priorities. This is a problem, because fiscal responsibility is desperately needed.
Decades of unbalanced National Budgets have created nearly a $20 trillion National Debt for the United States. While Bill Clinton was the last US President to lead a successful campaign to address the National Deficit and Debt, Paul Ryan's very sobering 2012 Budget proposal, The Path to Prosperity: Restoring America's Promise, showed exactly how much government the US could afford without increasing tax revenues. Unfortunately, it was a partisan budget based solely on “Conservative” priorities that fueled political polarization and dysfunction. Because Ryan’s approach was to hijack the US National Budget to push Right-wing priorities, it failed to solve America’s fiscal issues. Even if he and Trump could now impose such a plan on the American People, the next US President and Congress would undo their changes with added costs. As such, fiscal responsibility requires a politically, as well as fiscally, balanced Budget.
In his First 100 Days, President Donald Trump has promised, among a long list of other things, to pass the “Restoring National Security Act,” which seeks to rebuild the US military by expanding military investment and eliminating cuts to defense spending under the so-called 2012 Budget Sequester. For those who have forgotten the drama in the second half of President Barack Obama’s first term, when he tried to lead on Budget Reform, both Republicans and Democrats agreed to cuts to their priorities in order to reach an agreement on funding the government and reducing the debt. The idea was that both sides would be forced to work together toward politically sustainable and fiscally responsible reform, if their spending priorities faced indiscriminate cuts. Clearly, the incentive had no impact. Instead of fiscal responsibility, Republicans are simply seeking to reinstate their sending priorities, thereby further undermining the prospects for future deals promoting fiscal responsibility.
Military and National Security spending represent approximately 16% of the National Budget while spending on Veterans adds another 4% to the total, which represents more than half of discretionary spending. Healthcare spending and social security take up another 28% and 25% respectively. Both healthcare spending and social security are largely mandatory. As such, military spending must be part of the fiscal responsibility equation. Given the legendary waste, abuse, and fraud that comes with military and defense spending, there is also a clear need to address fiscal responsibility starting with the military. Inefficiencies in any military are deadly. With the US military budget over bloated, the National Debt beyond unsustainable, and global terrorism demanding more of our covert forces in far more countries around the world, we need a smarter, more flexible military that can respond more quickly to crises.
Inefficiencies not only waste resources and lead to unnecessary costs, they present a logistics nightmare that jeopardizes the lives of troops, especially considering how easily insurgents can target long supply chains. For example, a gallon of gasoline during the Afghanistan War cost between $50 and $60 in Afghanistan. US vehicles are terribly inefficient in terms of fuel usage. This was recipe for disaster that could have crippled the war effort when the Pakistani government closed its border to allied shipments and insurgents blew up several fuel trucks in the summer of 2010. The problem is that much of our military infrastructure is designed around the notion that money is not an issue when it comes to defense. This mantra is reflected both in how our military operates and its technology.
War machines have long helped keep the men and women of modern militaries safe; however, new challenges in a global war on terrorism require these machines operate in far more adverse conditions with far greater restrictions. One major obstacle to change is that, in the past, efficiency meant using inferior technology that would endanger the lives of troops. Plainly, we should be able to do better through smarter technology. The other major hurdle, however, comes from Congress and the Pentagon bureaucracy. Cutting costs, scrapping unnecessary projects, and refitting our military to its current missions had been top priorities of men like Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Despite the necessity of such leadership, every Congressional oversight committee prodded by top military brass has interfered with the process by undermining the authority of the Executive Branch and focusing on political rhetoric versus sound policy.
One short-lived victory for Robert Gate was his effort to persuade Congress to kill plans to further expand US airpower with the F22. Designed to replace the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F22 was intended to ensure America maintained air supremacy over the Soviet Union. Derailing this Cold War-era technology made sense as global terrorism continues to be a mainstay of our military’s focus, with the exception to the Ukraine Crisis and the South China Sea Crisis. Frankly, the F-22 would be useful against Russia and China, but it is not flexible enough to justify the cost. Unfortunately, legislators fought tooth and nail to preserve this 140 plus million dollar interceptor jet. Robert Gates had sought to change the culture of the Pentagon, but fell short. The Trump Administration seems set to reverse any progress made by leaders like Gates.
A path to fiscal responsibility starts by focusing on solutions that do not provoke partisan bickering. For example, the Government Accountability Office has identified tens to hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, abuse, and fraud that can be addressed without much controversy. Republicans and Democrats will then need to upset each other by targeting the spending preferences of the other side; however, they should not immediately target each others’ top priorities. Lengthy debates on issues with a significant potential to cause controversy will only derail the process, thus such issues are best dealt in the next rounds of deal making. Our legislative leaders do not need to solve every fiscal issue in one sitting. They need to break the process up into smaller, manageable bits. Right now, they just need to reach a big enough deal to target the largest areas for cutting spending and raising revenues.
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