Reducing the Debt Should Be the True National Security Priority

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Is President Obama concerned by the runaway spending that has taken place under his watch? Sometimes he pays lip service to the notion. For example, here’s the President in the 2010 National Security Strategy of the United States:

Our strategy starts by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins with steps we take at home. We must grow our economy and reduce our deficit.

Back then the President recognized that deficit reduction is critically linked to military preparedness and national security. But you wouldn’t it know now by his Administration’s actions.

From 2009 until today, the President has lurched from crisis to crisis, with little regard for spending control. He, with congressional assent, has enlarged the deficit and the debt at every step.

To be fair, the President had plenty of company in mismanaging our fiscal affairs. Republicans in the House of Representatives talk a good game on spending, but when their backs are against the wall, they too often choose to punt, postponing real reform until later.

Congressional Democrats have been even more irresponsible, if that’s possible. They’ve deferred budgets for years on end and, relying instead on short-term continuing resolutions to keep the wheels of government turning. Perhaps that’s why in a June CNN poll, 83% of Americans said they disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

The fact is that this fiscal dereliction is undermining our economic and military strength. Continued deficit spending has swelled our national debt to nearly $17 trillion. Servicing that debt (the equivalent of monthly minimum payments on your credit cards) is costing us roughly $250 billion a year, an amount that will only rise as deficit spending continues and interest rates climb. These numbers are a drag on future economic growth.

That’s a recipe for disaster, as Admiral Mike Mullen warned when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “The most significant threat to our national security,” he said in 2010, “is our debt.”

That challenge cannot be met with vague promises to further “tax the rich.” Nor will defense-budget cuts alone suffice. While the defense budget can certainly stand some reductions as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, it is a simple fact that there’s not much more to cut from the military, without compromising force readiness.

America, instead, requires a responsible, balanced approach to budget control that encompasses spending reform at the Pentagon, and in the nation’s entitlement programs.

Programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were established as safety-net programs to protect the most vulnerable Americans against poverty. Unfortunately, these programs have grown so large that we cannot pay for them as they are currently structured. It’s time for real leadership in Washington, D.C., to reform them so they remain sustainable for the future.

To ensure that the debate on spending receives proper focus, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) is hosting a session Thursday in Washington titled The Need for Spending Reform. Speakers included former Democrat Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania, Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Senator Ted Cruz, R-Tex., who’ll share their views on how to tackle the debt (you can watch it here).

In President Obama’s second inaugural address six months ago, he laid out his plans for the next four years. Unfortunately, his stated goals don’t include facing down the reality about spending and the debt.

That can only leave our nation less prosperous at home, and less prepared to defend itself abroad.

The President should look back at his National Security Strategy from three years ago, to remind himself of the importance of fiscal responsibility to national strength, both here and overseas. Then he should lead the charge to make it happen.

John Byrnes is the Concerned Veterans for America field representative for North Carolina.  He served as a Marine non-commissioned officer and now serves in the Army National Guard. He responded to the September 11 attacks in New York City, and deployed to Iraq in 2004 and Afghanistan in 2008.