7.23.2010

Some budget-cutting clarification

A mistake that conservatives make all too often when discussing cutting spending is to completely ignore or gloss-over the Department of Defense. Marc Thiessen, writing at National Review and the American Enterprise blog discusses what he sees as "troubling talk" of defense spending cuts. While I appreciate Mr. Thiessen's commitment to a strong and robust national defense, I think there is a danger in knee-jerk opposition to cutting the Pentagon's budget.

Thiessen himself seems to take a very reasoned approach to the problem and quotes our favorite Congressman, Paul Ryan, in explaining how to treat the Department of Defense:
But we should make sure we take that scalpel to the Pentagon as well. Because I would argue there is a lot of waste to be gotten. But let’s not do so at the expense of our fundamental, primary function of our federal government, which is to secure our national defense. So I believe in a big cap, and I believe in a firewall, so you can’t take money from defense to plow it into all this domestic spending, but under that cap let’s make sure that we can get savings so that we can do more with less—or, what do they say these days? Do more with not as much, I think, is the way Secretary Gates says it.
The danger I see - from the GOP as a whole - is refusing to cut any waste at all. We saw this in last year's defense appropriation when the Senate refused to cut a wasteful and unnecessary - according to Sec. Gates and the Joint Chiefs - fighter jet program. The cuts to defense that need to be made will not be easy, but they are as necessary as any other reform. I wonder whether or not the GOP has the political will to tackle it.

Let me put it this way, think of pruning an apple tree or a grape vine. In order to get the best yield - not just in amount of fruit, but quality as well - you must trim away the unnecessary growth each year. Otherwise the tree or vine becomes overgrown and hinders it's growth. The same is true for defense spending - and government spending in general. The goal is not to see how many programs we can get running at once, but to foster the best quality programs possible. If we cut waste and reform the procurement process, we can go a long way to clearing away clutter and unnecessary growth that ultimately hinders our mission.

I'm not saying bare-bones defense budgeting, but we need some honest cuts. We can't look at parochial interests or pet projects as sacred anymore no matter what department that may be. The Republican Party going forward must certainly put defense at the top of our priority list, but we can no longer act as though there is an unlimited amount of money we can pour into the Pentagon.

Politically I think this is an important point to make. If voters are to take Republicans seriously about reigning in government largess, then we must be consistent. Wasteful spending at the Department of Education, or the USDA, or in Medicare and Social Security is just as bad as waste at the DoD. We have lacked that consistency - and any other consistency, really - in the past and paid dearly in 06 and 08. I hope we learned our lesson and get serious about it now.