During his no-really-I'm-one-of-you CPAC speech yesterday, John McCain stressed his budget-slashing bonafides:
Senator Clinton and Senator Obama want to increase the size of the federal government.
I intend to reduce it.
McCain does have a legitimate claim on impressive limited-government activism—he continues to oppose the prescription drug benefit, for example, and his threat yesterday to veto every earmark-laden bill was not idle, and hinted at what I think would be the best thing about a McCain White House.
But it ain't earmarks swelling the government. As Mercatus economist Veronique de Rugy catalogued in the L.A. Times earlier this week, it's defense and war spending. And what would a President McCain do about that particular elephant in the budget room? Read his Foreign Affairs essay from last fall. An excerpt, with some relevant phrases bolded for emphasis:
I will increase the size of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps from the currently planned level of roughly 750,000 troops to 900,000 troops. Enhancing recruitment will require more resources and will take time, but it must be done as soon as possible.
Along with more personnel, our military needs additional equipment in order to make up for its recent losses and modernize. We can partially offset some of this additional investment by cutting wasteful spending. But we can also afford to spend more on national defense, which currently consumes less than four cents of every dollar that our economy generates—far less than what we spent during the Cold War. We must also accelerate the transformation of our military, which is still configured to fight enemies that no longer exist.
America needs not simply more soldiers but more soldiers with the skills necessary to help friendly governments and their security forces resist common foes. I will create an Army Advisory Corps with 20,000 soldiers to partner with militaries abroad, and I will increase the number of U.S. personnel available to engage in Special Forces operations, civil affairs activities, military policing, and military intelligence. We also need a nonmilitary deployable police force to train foreign forces and help maintain law and order in places threatened by state collapse.
Today, understanding foreign cultures is not a luxury but a strategic necessity. As president, I will launch a crash program in civilian and military schools to prepare more experts in critical languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, and Pashto. Students at our service academies should be required to study abroad. I will enlarge the military's Foreign Area Officer program and create a new specialty in strategic interrogation in order to produce more interrogators who can obtain critical knowledge from detainees by using advanced psychological techniques, rather than the kind of abusive tactics properly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.
I will set up a new agency patterned after the erstwhile Office of Strategic Services. A modern-day OSS could draw together specialists in unconventional warfare, civil affairs, and psychological warfare; covert-action operators; and experts in anthropology, advertising, and other relevant disciplines from inside and outside government. Like the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization. It would fight terrorist subversion around the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today rarely consider taking—such as deploying infiltrating agents without diplomatic cover in terrorist states and organizations—and play a key role in frontline efforts to rebuild failed states.
As we increase our military capacity, we must also enhance our civilian capacity. As president, I will energize and expand our postconflict reconstruction capabilities so that any military campaign would be complemented by a civilian "surge" that would build the political and economic foundations of peace. To better coordinate our disparate military and civilian operations, I will ask Congress for a civilian follow-on to the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, which fostered a culture of joint operations within the military services. The new act would create a framework for civil servants and military forces to train and work together in order to facilitate cooperation in postconflict reconstruction.
We must also revitalize our public diplomacy. In 1998, the Clinton administration and Congress mistakenly agreed to abolish the U.S. Information Agency and move its public diplomacy functions to the State Department. This amounted to unilateral disarmament in the war of ideas. I will work with Congress to create a new independent agency with the sole purpose of getting America's message to the world—a critical element in combating Islamic extremism and restoring the positive image of our country abroad.
Whole thing here. It is not, to say the least, a recipe for reducing the size of the federal government.