Ethereal Defense Cuts – A Phony War

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It’s the home stretch on the current round of wrangling over the nation’s deficits and debt. And as we reach the home stretch, the dialogue has begun to detach more and more from reality.

This is especially true for defense. The guardians at the gate, led by HASC Chair Buck McKeon, are fighting in the last trench to keep defense from being cut. But other elements of the Republican caucus keep putting it on the table.

The argument got very unreal in Politico on July 25. There stalwarts of the HASC argued that defense had nothing to do with deficits or the debt and never had.

Balderdash, as I like to say. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities did a recent analysis of what contributed to the deficits over the past ten years and what would contribute to them over the next ten. The answer: revenues lost due to the 2001 tax cuts and the current economic recession, and, on the spending side, doubling the defense budget.

Hey, it’s about spending and revenues. And we spend on defense, as part of federal spending, until the constitution is amended.

Equally unreal is the argument about cutting the defense budget. Because it is hard to do, first Rep. Ryan, and now Sen. Reid have reached for an easy, and, in the end, unreal answer. We’ll just make the wars go away; that will save money.

Except, except, there is that curious little thing budgeteers (like me) call a baseline. What are you cutting defense from? Turns out both Rep. Ryan and Sen. Reid are using the Congressional Budget Office Baseline.

Sounds obscure. Even more obscure when you realize that the CBO baseline assumes we will spend $159 billion a year, plus inflation, every year for the next ten years, on the wars. Even the most fervent advocate of remaking Afghanistan into Switzerland knows that this mechanical extrapolation from the FY 2011 appropriation for the war is unreal.

Or to put it plainly, the claimed $1 trillion in savings from phasing out the war is a phony. A budget plug, not a real number. Lord knows what else is lurking in the budget plans being thrown around this week, but this dog won’t hunt.

That is, unless you want to get through this phase of a battle that has become more political and optical than substantive, and live to fight again, and again, and again, until the first Tuesday in November decides something and lays the ground for a more serious discussion.