Don't take military lessons from Greece

Flashpoint: The nation’s military needs to spring into action to combat a threat. Unfortunately, the government scarcely has the funding to pay members of the armed forces. Planes remain grounded and tanks are mothballed because of the price of fuel. The response is slowed to a halt, threatening national security in the process.

This isn’t fiction. Greece’s military is paying this price due to the country’s ongoing debt crisis. And if you don’t think it could happen in the United States, you’re mistaken.

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Greece’s debt crisis has imperiled its economy. America’s national debt threatens the same. Greece’s debt is currently 177 percent the size of its GDP.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, our national debt is set to reach 141 percent of our GDP in just 30 years. Further analysis shows that number could actually grow as high as 171 percent by 2016. That’s the highest level in our country’s history — higher than it was even during WWII. This is the result of years and years spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need.

It’s within our lawmakers’ power to stop and reverse this dangerous trend, but they’ve shown little interest in that. In fact, Washington has failed to pass its required budget bill in time in 20 years. Instead of seeking solutions, politicians regularly negotiate last minute spending deals that fail to rein in overspending. The results are higher spending, more debt, and failed programs.

Since 2009, our national debt has grown by more than 80 percent – it now sits at over $19 trillion. As this debt grows, it drags down the economy and crowds other areas of government spending. It’s now expected that by 2024, interest payments will exceed total defense spending. This threatens the very safety and security of our country.

Strong economies make for safer countries, but the more debt we take on, the more vulnerable we become. The bipartisan Coalition for Fiscal and National Security – comprised of former military officials, secretaries of state, and secretaries of defense – now warns that “Unless we change course, our huge and growing debt will undermine our economic growth, our military strength, and our global leadership.”

Driving this debt and imperiling our national security in the process are mandatory spending programs. This year they will represent two-thirds of government spending, and includes entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Unlike the military budget, which is considered discretionary and subject to annual approval, these programs are funded automatically and are estimated to have as much as $140 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Yet in spite of that, and unless lawmakers change the way they operate, Social Security and Medicare are expected to be bankrupt within 15 years, dragging us further into debt.

It’s time for our elected officials to reverse course before our nation goes the way of Greece. There are better ways of funding our government — methods that involve careful, disciplined discussion, rather than a last-minute flurry of spending each year.

That requires lawmakers restoring the budget process to normal and giving all spending bills the floor debate they deserve, rather than rushing deliberation of them behind closed doors away from the eyes of taxpayers.

Federal legislators must also take it upon themselves to practice discipline and make serious efforts to control spending. The bipartisan Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 was a significant effort in that direction, creating limits on discretionary spending. Under its influence, federal spending decreased from $3.6 trillion in 2011 to $3.51 trillion in 2014, rather than ballooning year by year.  

Unfortunately, Congress has since disregarded those self-imposed limits on numerous occasions. This is the wrong approach. While some argue that BCA caps need to be broken to increase defense spending, this reasonable limit helped save hundreds of billions of dollars, which would slow the continued growth of our destabilizing national debt.

The fact is that this country can spending judiciously on defense and still be safe. The bottom line is that we need to be spending Defense Department dollars in a smarter way. The Pentagon needs more accountability and reforms to programs like acquisition in order to ensure our soldiers are supplied based on what they need, not what lines the pockets of contractors in choice congressional districts.

Congress also must make real strides in reforming our entitlement programs. Even if other spending can be controlled, the runaway growth of spending on Social Security and other safety-net programs will continue America’s descent towards bankruptcy. Cost-control measures and reforms to the way benefits are distributed, not to mention the elimination of any redundant or fraudulent spending, would help mitigate the rising expenditures on these programs.

This isn’t the direction Congress has been moving so far, but these are the goalposts they should set. A balanced budget and entitlement reform aren’t just political concerns—they’re matters of national security. Fortunately, there’s already a proposed solution for lawmakers to get our country back on track: The Stop, Cut & Fix plan, which will stop crisis budgeting, cut federal spending, and fix Washington’s broken budget process.

It’s unfair to the veterans who’ve given so much for our country to force them to watch as our country spends itself into danger. If lawmakers want to keep America safe and secure, then it’s long past time for them to target the national debt.

Dan Caldwell is the vice president of policy and communications at Concerned Veterans for America.


 

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill