The main point of emphasis of the Republican campaign to take back Congress in 2010 was to cut spending at the federal level. This principle allowed the Republican Party to take back the House and make inroads in the Senate. One of the chief campaign promises by Republican leadership was that it intended to return spending to the 2008 level by trimming $100 billion in the first fiscal year.
However, upon taking over the House, Republicans have scaled back their plans. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced in the beginning of January that the targeted $100 billion in cuts had been reduced to $60 billion. This has led some to believe that Republicans will attempt to make further reductions in fiscal year 2012 to hit their goal.
Unfortunately, Republicans have thus far refused to target defense or security spending. Defined as money spent on wars, non-war defense, veterans, and homeland security, this type of spending constitutes nearly two-thirds of all discretionary spending. Since the initiation of America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the budget for the Department of Defense (DoD) has grown exponentially. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has adamantly stated that the Pentagon can find areas to save money. In this vein, he enacted a plan to locate $78 billion in savings through fiscal year 2016. This plan has largely been viewed as an attempt by the Secretary of Defense to ward off future defense cuts by finding savings in the interim.
Some Republicans, including Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Representative Eric Cantor (R-Va.) consider defense spending a viable option to reduce the budget. Sen. Coburn has even suggested that the DoD budget be frozen, with an audit to follow designed to find $50 billion in cuts. Nevertheless, the wider party has not accepted such alternatives.
Defense spending eliminations should begin with the F136 alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The wall-to-wall criticism of the alternative engine is well chronicled. The project has been criticized as wasteful and unnecessary by both the Bush and Obama Administrations and numerous top military officials. As recently as January 6, 2011, Secretary Gates stated that spending limited resources on the alternate engine constitutes excessive overhead and is an unneeded program. The project barely escaped the cutting board for this fiscal year when an 11th hour letter from Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew included funding for the F136 in the continuing resolution. Unfortunately, the engine has strong political allies, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
In addition to the alternate engine, other prime examples of wasteful programs exist within the DoD budget. For instance, President Obama’s deficit reduction commission proposed eliminating several major weapons systems, including the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and the Future Maritime Prepositioning Force.
With a national debt of $14.1 trillion, the time is ripe for stronger fiscal responsibility. Riding such sentiment, Republican leaders came to office with a mandate to trim wasteful spending. However, Republicans cannot afford to be choosy when it comes to finding savings. While considering wider budget cuts, Congress should also take a hard look at Defense spending.