Cutting the defense budget (not in our House)

John Richardson

Columnist

During Virginia’s congressional midterm elections, candidates pledged to reduce the trillion dollar federal deficit, but none pledged with such predilection as the Republicans. Now that they will hold a majority in the House of Representatives, as well as taking eight of Virginia’s congressional seats and six Senate seats, they propose to fulfill their pledge by making large cuts in discretionary spending and avoiding the largest problem with the federal budget: defense and military spending.

The Department of Defense accounts for over 50 percent of discretionary expenditures, and takes in 36 percent of taxes. Defense cuts are justified.

However, a congressional representative has never suggested defense cuts. Granted, defense cuts will help America’s economy, but they won’t help Virginia’s economy. The military is our state’s sacred cash cow. Virginia receives more military contracts and the Defense Department employs more civilians here than any other state in the union.

When on Nov. 10 the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform proposed a plan that called for a $100 billion reduction of the defense budget, every Virginia congressional candidate harshly criticized the plan.

“These shortsighted cuts will weaken us, and will also deal a significant blow to Virginia’s economy, cutting over 3,000 civilian contractors and redeploying another 2,800 military personnel across the country,” Republican Congressman-elect Morgan Griffith of Virginia’s 9th congressional district said. “There is no virtue in weakness. If our children are to grow up in safety and freedom, we can trim the face, but we dare not cut the muscle from our military arms.”

Unfortunately, candidates cannot resist the urge of veering off onto superficial patriotic rhetoric that baselessly claims that the American people’s safety is at risk. Out of the 10 countries with the highest military spending, the U.S. spends nearly twice as much as the next nine combined.

This year we budgeted $663.8 billion for our military, and when you add the $361 billion that we spent on defense-related expenditures outside the Defense Department, our national defense costs $1.03 trillion this year. Am I to believe that if we subdued this spending, and slowed our stockpiling of planes, ships and weapons, we’ll lose our freedoms? Which foreign power will invade us, China? They annually spend $573 billion less than we do on a military complex. Sources calculate that the U.S. can match the defense budget of all its theoretical enemies combined for 37 percent less than it currently spends.

Virginia’s politicians think all of this is necessary, and indeed, there is logic behind maintaining, and even increasing, defense spending – unemployment rates are high and the military is the largest jobs program we have.

Before the midterms Republican Congressman-elect Scott Rigell of Virginia’s 2nd congressional district explained his opposition to defense cuts by stating that “one of the essential functions of our federal government is to protect its citizens.” What my subliminal ears heard was a plea to gain votes because Rigell is a true patriot. Rigell would then defeat Democrat Glenn Nye.

At least there was some straight talk from Republican congressional candidate Keith Fimian who said, “I want federal contractors to know I will advocate for them in Congress. Federal contracting powers Virginia’s economy.” Fimian narrowly lost the election in Virginia’s 11th congressional district to Democratic incumbent Gerry Connolly.

How lawmakers, particularly Republicans, can talk their way around the central fact that our current defense budget is the main root of our deficit is incomprehensible. I suppose they could play dumb. That’s exactly what Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia’s 7th congressional district did.

On his recently launched website – republicanwhip.house.gov – which asks visitors to give him suggestions on how to reduce the deficit. Each week, the most popular suggestions are posted on a page titled “GOP Solutions for America.” Being a new site, the only suggestions currently posted are the Republican defaults – small business job creation, sustainable energy, and health care reform. Hopefully defense cuts will become a popular suggestion.

I wonder though; even if defense cuts become popular, will the site avoid posting them or will a Virginia Republican actually recognize defense cuts as a tool for economic recovery? For the party establishment, it would be a first.

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