It's possible to have strong defense and be fiscally sound

It's possible to have strong defense and be fiscally sound
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It’s been a rough few months — okay, a rough couple of years — for fiscal conservatives. The only check on government spending in a generation, the Budget Control Act, began being undermined almost as soon as it passed.

Nearly every temporary spending measure since 2011 took a crack at killing it, and last month’s massive two-year budget deal effectively served as the nail in the coffin: More than $300 billion in new spending and a timeline that makes it even more difficult for Congress to enact spending reform of any kind during the next few years.

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An inextricable facet of this debate is why so many supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans were persuaded to support the largest spending increase since Obama’s stimulus: Their long-held desire to “restore and rebuild” the U.S. military.

 

To be clear, this is a noble goal. No matter how questionable the premise of total deprivation might be, resources have certainly been strained by budget uncertainty in recent years, at least if you listen to military leadership. Few on any side of the aisle oppose giving the armed forces the full funding necessary to protect the country.

But is that what we’re doing?

As the latest deal and years of experience show, there are dire consequences when politicians opt to take everything in their favorite department off the table and trade their spending for the other side’s outlays.

The new Pentagon topline was hiked by roughly $80 billion in this latest deal, and the hundreds of billions in new spending contained few offsetting cuts — even fake cuts — to make up for it.

Things do not have to be this way. Surely, there are cuts and reforms that can be made to the nation’s largest department — and indeed, there are. At the Institute for Spending Reform, we sought to catalogue every one that we could find.

What we found was startling, but also encouraging. Policy changes from large to small make up over $140 billion in potential savings.

That’s not to say that every reform we identified should necessarily be implemented. The ideas, which are available in full here, are not all easy, or even immediately feasible. Some, like reviewing major weapons programs that have gone over budget or implementing standardized processes, fall mostly to Pentagon leadership.

Others, like reforming the troubled Overseas Contingency Operations budget, will apparently take more time for Congress to be comfortable with. Some may also be unwise in the current climate.

Still others, though, are no-brainers or have already been attempted to some success — installing consumer-based controllers on submarines or reducing certain foreign aid programs, for instance.

Elected officials are bound to disagree on the mechanics of running the world’s largest military, and what exactly needs to be funded will come down to where one stands politically, various district concerns and many other factors.

What should not be up for debate is whether there are options for anyone to support a strong national defense and fiscally responsible spending. On that, the facts are quite clear.

Jonathan Bydlak is the founder and president of the Institute for Spending Reform, which created Guide for a Strong America, and SpendingTracker.org. Follow him on Twitter @jbydlak and @ReformSpending.