Adequate defense — and how to pay for it

The end of the war in Iraq and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan has many clamoring for a rapid reduction in spending for the Department of Defense. This is not something new; it has happened after every war. The only difference is this time there are real dangers on the immediate horizon: the Russian invasion of Crimea threatens Eastern Europe; the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria threatens to overrun Iraq; North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan are all unstable. Additionally, the rapidly increasing costs of the active component and the weapons platforms the services want to buy are driving down the size and the capabilities of all our military services. The Department of Defense is caught between a rock and a hard place. 

The question is, how much to spend on defense and what capabilities do we want the DOD to have? The framers of our Constitution were the first to grapple with this problem. Highly suspicious of the expense of maintaining a large standing Army and very aware of the potential misuse of this force by ambitious executive power, they made it the duty of the Congress (Article I, Section 8): “To raise and support Armies … To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States.” This type of Army, based on a large body of well organized and trained militia, was proposed to the First Congress by President George Washington as one of the essential foundations of the new American Republic.

More recently, the Reserve Forces Policy Board has reported that the active component costs almost three times the price of Army National Guard units. Decreasing the active component by 20,000 soldiers would save $4.4 billion in personnel costs, increasing the Army National Guard by the same 20,000 would only cost $1.2 billion. This is a net savings of $3.14 billion annually! 

Growth of the Army National Guard has additional benefits. It serves to reconnect hometown America to its Army because more will be based in the middle of its communities. It ensures a robust domestic response to any hometown emergency because state active duty is an Army National Guard core competency. It possesses a large number of combat veterans in leadership positions in its ranks. Finally, a larger National Guard will help grow long-term international relationships by expanding its highly successful State Partnership Program.

Sadly, the senior leadership of the DOD refuses to consider this course of action, holding stubbornly to the idea of reducing all three components of the Army. It simply makes no sense to reduce the most cost effective part of our land forces — our reserve component.

Since DOD is stuck in the ideas of the Cold War, it is time for the U.S. Congress to break the paradigm and form a commission on the total Army. This commission needs to study the issue and develop recommendations on the proper mix of active and reserve component forces. If we do this, our nation will be able to “provide for the common defense” and save money at the same time!

Annville, Pa.

Big Oil out of control

American Fuels and Petrochemical Manufacturers chief Charles Drevna should read the Renewable Fuels Association’s report on Big Oil’s anti-competitive practices from start to finish (“RFS props big ethanol, hinders small businesses,” The Hill’s Congress Bog, July 25), as it clearly acknowledges that refiners no longer own many of America’s gas stations. The fact that refiners no longer own the stations is irrelevant; they still control what is sold and they have systematically thwarted competition through the use of rigid franchise and branding agreements, restrictive supply contracts, outlandish labeling requirements, punitive penalties and other heavy-handed tactics. 

RFA’s July 8 report examines Big Oil’s heavy-handed practices. The accompanying Consumer Choice Report Card gave the “Big Five” oil companies — Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron & Shell — a whopping “F,” because less than 1 percent of their branded stations sold higher level ethanol blends. Out of nearly 48,000 “Big Five” branded retail gas stations, fewer than 300 sell E85 or E15. By comparison, 1,700-2,600 of the 74,000 independently branded stations offer consumers access to higher level ethanol blends.

The fact of the matter is that ethanol is the cheapest transportation fuel on the planet, saving consumers money at the pump. Energy economist Philip Verleger found that ethanol saved consumers on average $1.00/gallon in 2012 and 2013. Higher-level ethanol blends would allow consumers to enjoy even more cost savings, but only if they are given the option.

Consumers are not failing to choose higher-level ethanol blends, they are being denied the choice.

From Bob Dinneen, president and CEO, Renewable Fuels Association, Washington D.C.