The Congressional Budget Office projects that if we keep spending the way we have been, federal debt held by the public will grow from around 60 percent of GDP to a whopping 82 percent of GDP over the next decade, with no end in sight. That's the sort of borrowing that can ruin a country's economy.
Conservative Republicans are happy to talk about cutting spending on the poor, education, and cowboy poetry readings, but they insist that spending on defense and homeland security be increased.
Given that spending on defense and homeland security accounts for a whopping 20 percent of the government's budget, that's a non-starter. As with every other legitimate function of government, we need to squeeze spending down to the lowest level possible that still gets the job done.
Here are three reasons conservatives – and all other red-blooded Americans – should cut defense spending now.
1. War is Over! Didn't we just win – or at least end – the war in Iraq? And aren't we winding down in Afghanistan? After World War II, Vietnam, and the end of the Cold War, military spending got cut, as it should have been.
More to the point, spending on the military and homeland security grew by 90 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2000. If al Qaeda and most international terrorists groups have been largely vanquished, we should not just be bringing the troops home, but dollars too.
Unless, that is, conservatives want to seriously argue that nearly doubling outlays for the past decade haven't yielded results that would allow us to dial down defense spending.
2. What price safety? The United States already accounts for about 45 percent of the planet's military outlays – more than the next 14 countries combined. Most of those countries are our allies as well, so we should be able to stay safe while reducing our military spending.
It's a conservative truism that government programs, even ones that are sanctioned by the constitution, tend to be bloated, inefficient, and incompetent. Surely that same logic applies to the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, Republican Reps. John Mica and Paul Broun marked the 10th anniversary of the Transportation Security Administration with a report that concluded that after spending $56 billion in security measures, flying is no safer now than it was before the 9/11 attacks.
If conservatives can't find wasteful spending and useless programs in defense and homeland security to cut, they've got bigger problems than terrorists to deal with.
3. Attacking the Military-Industrial Complex is a Republican Virtue – And Good Politics. It was a Republican president – the war hero Dwight Eisenhower – who sounded the alarm about the military-industrial complex's insidious ability to grow and grow like a cancer on the American body politic. And right now, it's Democrats such as Defense Secretary Leon Panentta leading the cry for a blank check despite admitting that there are tons of duplicative programs in his department.
In his proposed 2011 budget, President Barack Obama actually calls for bigger spending on defense and homeland security than the Republicans do. Obama's recent announcement that he may trim some planned increases over the next decade doesn't change that.
Americans are rightly tired not just of dubious, inconclusive wars that have led to the death of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of others. A growing number of us are tired of out-of-control spending by a Washington elite that is totally out of touch with everyday Americans.
If conservatives want to push forward on reducing spending on Medicaid and other domestic programs, they should show that they take their own limited government philosophy seriously by pushing for defense cuts between now and the 2012 elections.
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Nick Gillespie is editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv, and the co-author of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America. Follow him on Twitter: @nickgillespie.
Meredith Bragg is a producer at Reason.tv, a 2010 finalist for digital National Magazine Award for his video work, and an active musician and performer.