At a time U.S. needs more safety, the president’s budget offers less

As Congress deliberates over next year’s budget, it is easy to get bogged down in the details and lose sight of the big picture. The federal budget is simply an annual statement of our federal government’s priorities. With that in mind, the Obama administration’s fiscal 2010 budget makes a very troubling statement. The new administration’s priorities are clear — it supports a massive expansion of social programs at the expense of our national defense.

Apart from the issue of massive deficits, this reprioritization is risky because it makes our country vulnerable to enemies abroad. It is true that the new administration has chosen to rename the War on Terror as “Overseas Contingency Operations.” But no matter what you call it, the threat has not gone away.

One of the federal government’s most important duties, spelled out in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, is to “provide for the common defense.” The president’s budget strays from that fundamental duty.

A quick look at the numbers tells the story of President Obama’s misplaced priorities. More than 80 percent of Obama’s $11.5 billion in proposed budget cuts comes from defense spending. Missile defense is cut by $1.4 billion. The F-22 program and other major platforms are terminated. These defense cuts send a clear signal that this administration is not going to be as forceful on national security issues as the previous administration.

One thing is certain: Much of our military hardware is used up and worn out after prolonged combat in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. We need to invest in new equipment to keep our troops prepared for future conflicts. While we all hope for an end to conflict, and we want to see our troops come home, we cannot be so foolish as to think we can simply draw down our spending without any long-term consequences. We must have a plan that clearly spells out our national and defense priorities.

There was a missed opportunity in the so-called stimulus package passed earlier this year. I pushed to use some of that money to pay for investments in strategically important weapons systems because it would have kept high-paying jobs in place, and was not the stimulus supposed to be about jobs? Unfortunately, Democrats passed a bloated spending bill that contained only one penny in defense spending for every dollar spent elsewhere, and even that was not for weapons acquisition.

As recent developments in North Korea dramatically show, the ballistic missile threat has not diminished. It is, in fact, growing. It makes no sense to reduce the funding commitment to our missile defense system by $1.4 billion — or 15 percent — as the Obama administration has done. This sends the signal to the world that we do not take the threats of rogue regimes seriously. It is another case of the rhetoric from this administration not matching up with reality.

The president’s budget focuses primarily on theater missile threats, rather than long-range strategic missiles. As evidence of this, he has proposed cutting the number of proposed ground-based interceptors in Alaska from 44 to 30. Right now our intelligence analysts believe North Korea’s nuclear missiles could actually reach Alaska. America needs more protection, not less. It is a false dichotomy to say we should choose theater missile protection over strategic protection — both are possible and are not mutually exclusive.

Additionally, the president’s budget greatly slows down the deployment of missile defenses in Western Europe. The need to defend the United States and Western Europe has not changed. Abrupt changes in missile defense programs that have been under development for over a decade are poor policy and send signs of weakness to both our allies and to rogue nations such as Iran.

Equally troubling is the administration’s decision to put blinders on Congress and give us a look at defense spending for only one year without giving Congress the big picture view of where spending priorities are heading beyond that. Typically, administrations will give Congress a five-year view of proposed defense spending, but the Obama team is defying this congressional mandate. We cannot properly assess the proposed cuts without knowing the long-term projections.

Finally, the big question here is, Why doesn’t the president use the same diligence in cutting spending for the rest of the budget that he used to cut defense? There can only be one answer. He does not view national defense as having the same importance as social programs. As a statement of our national priorities, the administration’s budget simply does not reflect what most Americans value — a strong national defense.

Lamborn is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, with subcommittee memberships on Strategic Forces; Readiness; and Oversight and Investigations. He also co-chairs the House Missile Defense Caucus.