Are ‘Defense Hawks’ and ‘Fiscal Conservatives’ at Odds?
With members of Congress having delayed the defense spending bill months past the September 30 deadline, the Pentagon has run into the problem of having too much money, yet too little time to spend it. By the time the massive defense bill is appropriated, about $700 billion worth, there will only be five months before the end of the fiscal year, giving them less than half the time they normally would have to spend their budget. On the fifth continuing resolution since the beginning of the fiscal year, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff explained that the “lack of predictability and that lack of stability in the budget has not allowed us to most efficiently plan and use the resources available to us.” In the long-run, troops are less able to confront threats abroad when resources are not spent prioritizing programs that keep our troops safe in the field, and thus forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for a less effective military.
Since 2000, the base defense budget has almost doubled in cost and is trending upward. Additionally, the budget deal increased spending on overseas contingency operations (OCO), which are not subject to the restrictions laid out in the Budget Control Act. Next year, the base budget will jump to $716 billion, with no signs pointing towards moving the other direction.
A January 2015 Defense Business Board (DBB) study found reforms to the Pentagon could save $125 billion over the next five years. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) have issued their recommendations for ways the Pentagon can streamline services, cuts costs and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse. Independent studies and news articles have also explored these reforms and made their suggestions on how best to cut unnecessary programs. Unfortunately, there was no central location for policymakers and thought leaders to find these policies. It was necessary to compile all of the various articles, studies and plans for Pentagon cuts in one spot, making it accessible for anyone interested in the issue.
With a Pentagon audit getting underway at the beginning of the year, the Institute for Spending Reform created Guide for a Strong America to bridge that gap. Over 80 cuts and reforms are provided, making up over $140 billion worth of options, and individual legislators the chance to find solutions that fit their goals. All or even a majority of the suggestions are not meant for everyone, nor was it our intention to find only solutions we support, nor does the guide subscribe to a certain strategy, foreign policy, or preferred top-line spending number. Our goal is simply to offer options in a world of limited resources, “fiscal hawk” and “defense hawk” should not be mutually exclusive.
In the report, we outline reforms that would result in trillions of savings over the decade, with categories including acquisitions, personnel, infrastructure and more. Changes save as little as $1 million with reforms to the VA mail system, to hundreds of billions of dollars over the decade in a reduction the size of military troops, and everything in between. The guide lists solutions that defund the United Nations, saving billions annually and others reevaluate the number of domestic and foreign bases. These solutions would save money without putting our troops at greater risk. In fact, many of the solutions put the United States in a better place fiscally, and in turn, defensively.
About one-sixth of the entire U.S. budget goes toward military spending, and it jumps to more than half when you only count discretionary spending (the money that is debated and voted on every year). Defense hawks cannot demand that entitlement and non-defense discretionary spending be on the table for cuts, but protect all and any increases to the Pentagon. All spending should be scrutinized, no department or policy should be a sacred cow.
Our hope is that this guide will spark debate on what exactly our foreign policy and national defense goals are, and whether the hundreds of billions of dollars we send to the Department of Defense every year are going towards achieving those goals. Wasting money and resources hurts our troops just as much as taxpayers. We owe it to the men and women putting their lives on the line every day that the money we spend on them is being used most efficiently and effectively. Changing the narrative on defense spending is key, the era of the “cheap hawk” is not over.
Jake Grant is the Outreach Director for the Coalition to Reduce Spending and an Advocate for Young Voices. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Coalition to Reduce Spending.