Defense spending cuts look more like a slightly moderated increase

Here and Now

With the Congressional Super Committee having failed to reach an agreement on deficit reduction, attention has turned to the cuts that the Department of Defense is slated to undergo.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said those cuts would be “devastating” and would invite aggression against the U.S. by other countries. Republican Congressman Buck McKeon of California said he would not be the Armed Services Committee chairman presiding over the crippling of the military.

Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, has a different view. He calls the predictions of disaster “nonsense.” And he’s got new ammunition backing him up. 

Wall Street Journal columnist Brett Arends computed numbers from the Congressional Budget Office and concluded that the reductions being discussed are not, in fact, cuts to the defense budget, but rather reductions in the annual defense budget increase.

“They’re not planning to cut anything. All they’re doing is they’re saying: ‘We’re going to increase it more slowly than we had planned before,’ ” he said.

Arends said the cuts amount to an increase of 16 percent, when previously an increase of 23 percent had been planned. The budget will go from $703 billion last year to $818 billion 10 years from now.

“Nothing ever gets cut in Washington,” Arends said.

Arends said that defense spending, when adjusted for inflation, is at the highest levels ever, except for the last three years of World War II: 1943-1945.

“We’re spending than we did at the peak of Vietname, we’re spending more than we did at the peak of Ronald Reagan’s defense build-up,” he said. “It’s absolutely crazy.

Defense hawks often point to defense spending making up a much smaller portion of gross domestic product as the counter argument to those statistics.

They also point out that the technology used to fight wars today is vastly more complex and technologically advanced than the bullets and rifles used to fight in Korea.

But Arenda isn’t buying that.

“The fact is, in the past you had to put more boots on the ground,” he said. “We all know that technology gets cheaper and cheaper in real terms. This kind of spending is staggering given that we’re not facing the level of technological threat we faced in the Cold War.”

He also points out that, in addition to the cuts not really being cuts, there’s an extremely low likelihood of the cuts actually being implemented for 10 years, because of defense industry lobbying.

“The size of the Pentagon today is absolutely gigantic and we’re talking at a time when we have a serious budget crisis and we’re talking about what we’re going to cut,” Arends said. “My argument is, if we want to cut the budget, why aren’t we talking seriously about cutting defense spending.”

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