Policy

The Pentagon Budget Battle Is a Distraction

An ever-growing military budget is yet another illustration of the GOP's abandonment of small-government principles. And Democrats aren't any better.

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House Democrats are battling congressional Republicans and the White House over the Pentagon's budget. The question that divides them is whether the United States should spend too much on national defense, or way too much.

President Donald Trump has asked Congress for $750 billion, nearly $35 billion more than last year and enough to guarantee that the country remains atop the global leaderboard for military spending. Both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are on board, passing a $750 billion bill, 86–8, in June. But this princely sum has hit a roadblock in the House, where the Democratic majority instead passed a bill allocating a mere $733 billion to the military.

In response, Republicans have rushed to the rhetorical ramparts.

"House Democrats are forcing our troops to pay the price for their political disputes with the president," said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R–Texas), the ranking member on the House Armed Forces Committee, in a statement to Politico. "It is irresponsible in the midst of a war to tie the Pentagon's hands by cutting these funds while we have Special Operators, as we speak today, in 72 countries," said Rep. Michael Waltz (R–Fla.). A policy statement from the White House warned that spending only $733 billion would "not fully support critical national security priorities." Were such a bill to make it to his desk, Trump said he would veto it.

The Republicans are making a lot of noise over nothing. Rep. Adam Smith (D–Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has stressed how little daylight there really is between these dueling spending proposals. "The amount of stuff that we disagree on is probably about 2 percent of the bill," he said in June.

Regardless of which bill ends up becoming law, the United States will continue to have the most expensive military in the world, the Defense Department will continue to be the world's largest employer, and U.S. power to interfere in the fates of nations around the globe will remain intact. But by squabbling over relatively small differences between two overgrown bills, representatives of both parties are selling out their constituents. An ever-growing military budget is yet another illustration of the GOP's abandonment of small-government principles. Democrats, meanwhile, remain forcefully oblivious to the actual tradeoffs necessary to build, much less sustain, the broad government safety net they desire.

Every congressional budget standoff is a distraction from the actual problem: Left unchecked, government spending can swallow the American economy. While they may disagree over just how massive the Pentagon's budget should be, both parties are on the same page about avoiding the real conversation.

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  1. “Rep. Mac Thornberry (R–Texas), the ranking member on the House Armed Forces Committee, in a statement to Politico. “It is irresponsible in the midst of a war ”

    No fuck you, you don’t get to prosecute endless and pointless war and then use that war to justify more money for war. If more money had any chance to make a difference, it would have by now.

    1. while we have Special Operators, as we speak today, in 72 countries

      I think I see the problem.

      1. BigT….Yep. I see the same problem, I think.

        My big question. It is now 75 years post WW2. Why on earth are we still in Europe? They act like a bunch of ingrates. We saved their sorry asses twice. With the tools and rapid transport capability we have today, one has to ask why we have any bodies on European soil.

        1. Good R&R?

          But yeah. US troops should not have bases in Europe. Joint Force units that are small and to maintain battle readiness would be reasonable.

          Joint Force exercises are okay too.

          Having overseas military bases is a waste of money.

          1. Having served on several of those bases, I’m not so sure. I find the following benefits to the US to maintaining overseas bases.

            1. It exposes a proportion of our population to other cultures and experiences that they would otherwise never have the opportunity to see. Veterans bring that exposure back to the US and are often able to build on that experience even after they leave the service. As a society, we choose to subsidize other aspects of education. This is non-traditional but still has some value.

            2. The military is more effective as a result of that exposure when they are called up to fight. Equipment inherently gets field-tested in more environments than could possibly be done in US-only bases. Long supply chains get regularly practiced.

            3. They are bait. There will always be people how hate the US and who want to make symbolic attacks against it. Putting a geographically-convenient military base or embassy nearby arguably reduces the frequency of attacks will happen on US soil. Military bases and embassies are also staffed with folks specifically trained to that threat – unlike the vast majority of random shoppers at your local Walmart.

            1. I really want an edit button…
              In #3, “how” -> “who”.

            2. Dude come on. “Put troops in harm’s way so the bad guys attack them instead of sneaking into the U.S. and attacking the regular volk.” No.

              1. Dude come on. “Put troops in harm’s way so the bad guys attack them instead of sneaking into the U.S. and attacking the regular volk.” No.

                That’s exactly how most empires have done it for centuries. The US is no different.

            3. Rossami….Ok, but I think we could get #1 far more cheaply, using private means.

              WRT to #2, can you tell me what environment Europe has that we cannot replicate and field test here in the US? I mean, we fly shit from Newark to Japan routinely…that isn’t a test of a long supply line? Really? That argument isn’t going to fly.

              WRT to #3, I don’t see the argument: Putting a geographically-convenient military base or embassy nearby arguably reduces the frequency of attacks will happen on US soil. Ok, I’d like to see the case made for this assertion.

              I do not advocate isolationism. But quite frankly, we have been in Europe long enough. They are ‘first world’ countries more than capable of taking care of themselves. The war has been over for years, and those ingrates don’t want us there anyway. So oblige them.

    2. It’s even worse than that. He’s all for putting troops in harms way in all of these pointless wars, and then hiding behind “support our troops.” If these cretins in Congress cared at all about supporting our troops, they would end the endless wars and stop running special ops in 72 countries.

      They could pay the troops at the same level (or higher) as today at a fraction of the cost. You don’t even have to cut the troop levels if that’s undesirable. I’d much rather pay troops to train at home (or even just sit around and do nothing) than to pay them to risk their lives in pointless wars.

    3. In the midst of war? What war declaration has Congress passed of late?

  2. “the Defense Department will continue to be the world’s largest employer,”

    Very doubtful. China has an army.

    1. The Chinese Military is estimated as of 2019 at 2.18 million active plus another 0.51 million reserve but essentially no civilians.
      The US DoD has 1.3 million active, 0.83 reserve reserve but also 0.73 million civilians.
      So while the Chinese uniformed force is larger, it is still true that the DoD employs more people (we think, based on best available data).

  3. ‘House Democrats are battling congressional Republicans and the White House over the Pentagon’s budget.”

    “Both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are on board, passing a $750 billion bill, 86–8, in June. ”

    Dem may be battling Reps but the Dems in the Senate want the higher amount too.

  4. Yeah, it’s a distraction, all right.

    FY08 DoD Spending: $594 billion
    Projected FY20 Spending: $750 billion

    FY08 Medicare and Medicaid Services Spending: $862 billion
    FY18 Medicare and Medicaid Services Spending: $1.46 trillion

    1. +100

    2. And when you break that budget down further over half is payments for troop pay, medical care, and housing. The R&D budget is roughly 13% of that amount, if I remember right.

  5. Well, at least the military is specified in the constitution as a federal government responsibility.

    1. +100

    2. The framers did not prefer a standing army and hoped to rely on militias.

  6. yet another illustration of the GOP’s abandonment of small-government principles

    I keep seeing this language at Reason, which implies that this is a recent phenomenon or something. The GOP abandoned them so long ago that it makes no sense to mention them in the same sentence.

    Now, maybe the GOP has recently abandoned small-government rhetoric, but maybe that’s a good thing, since it’s more honest.

    1. Eyeroller beat me to it. Ever increasing defense budgets have been a Republican staple since Ronald Reagan. This article is “OK”, but make no attempt to explain how grotesquely bloated the defense budget was under Obama, prior to the extra layers of fat added by Trump, or how Democrats like Bernie Sanders gladly sign off on unnecessary defense spending in return for Republican acceptance of unnecessary domestic spending advocated by Democrats. More pork, with less responsibility! It works for both sides!

  7. All of the new military funds will get diverted to building an Anti-Mexicans wall anyway, so what’s the big deal? I need to be protected from the picking of veggies and fruits (by illegal sub-humans), so that said veggies and fruits can rot in the fields instead! Who can argue with THAT?

    Isn’t there some clause in the Constitution that says that the POTUS can willy-nilly declare any sort of emergency that sounds vaguely plausible, and then move funds around at will?

    https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2019/sep/10/democrats-target-republicans-donald-trump-military/
    Democrats target Republicans, Donald Trump on military money used for wall: A rundown of projects

    1. You’ve finally gone full emotion. At least you’re no longer pretending to be arguing from a point of logic. So kudos.

      1. Kudos on all of YOUR brilliant-genius arguments and citations and logic right there, buddy!

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    ──╚╝─╚╝─╚══╩╝╚╝╚╣╔═╝─╚═══╩═══╩═══╩═══╝─╚╝╚╝╚╝
    ────────────────║║
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    1. The only references to Trump in the article were about his request for $750B, an increase over last year’s defense budget and his promise to veto if it’s not $733B. Should I take this post as a celebration of that increase in spending, LC?

      1. MAGA!

        Trump requested more money for the military, which is far more constitutional legitimate than Social Security and Medicare.

        The House controls the Purse.

        I am celebrating that Trump will be elected for 4 more years come election 2020.

  9. As a libertarian, I generally want to reduce government spending. However we must not forget that Russia hacked our 2016 election. This was arguably an act of war. We’ll need a strong, well-funded military to confront this hostile foreign power when Democrats are back in control of the Executive branch.

    #LibertariansForGettingToughWithRussia

    1. Wait a minute… Trump wants to increase defense spending. Doesn’t that mean Russia does too? I would have expected you to reflexively oppose Trump on this.

      1. So many newbies who don’t get the schtick.

  10. “Democrats, meanwhile, remain forcefully oblivious to the actual tradeoffs necessary to build, much less sustain, the broad government safety net they desire.”

    What we don’t acknowledge is how much of defense spending is really a safety net. How much of defense spending is necessary and how much defense spending is a jobs program or is economic stimulus? How many kids need military money to go to college? How many military bases support the nearby town? More recently, is military spending being used to support President Trumps failing golf resorts?

    1. How much of defense spending is necessary and how much defense spending is a jobs program or is economic stimulus?

      Ask the Democrats. They’re the ones screeching about $5 billion of a $600 billion DoD budget being re-allocated for a border wall rather than various installation infrastructure projects.

      1. Well see there you have a $5M saving. The Trump administration says we don’t need the military projects and the Congress says we don’t need the wall. So let use that $5M to pay done the debt. That work for you?

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