Don’t Target Defense Budget to Fund Domestic Priorities

Mackenzie Eaglen /

Pentagon (Photo by Newscom)

Providing for the common defense is the primary responsibility of government as prescribed in the U.S. Constitution. Robust national defense is the first principle of government, without which all others fall away.

Even though defense spending is at an historical low today (less than 4% of gross domestic product), many in Washington are already clamoring to use the military as a bill-payer for domestic programs. This is reality — and it’s a point I outlined Monday in Chicago at a forum on national security. Unfortunately, the seriousness of this threat was lost on The New Republic’s Dayo Olopade. Had she done her homework, it would come as no surprise that five times in the last 90 years, the United States has disarmed after a conflict.

There is not — nor should there be — unlimited taxpayer money to spend. Good governance demands responsible fiscal policies and forces Congress to prioritize what is most important.

In reality, the main culprit of federal budget growth over the past two decades has been domestic discretionary spending, which has grown at nearly twice the rate of defense and homeland security spending. Reforming these programs, so as to balance the priorities of the federal budget, should be the main focus by Congress.

President-elect Barack Obama committed to a myriad of massive spending efforts throughout the campaign. In an environment of finite resources, domestic priorities that could ultimately impact defense spending include universal health care, middle class tax cuts, and renewable energy investments.

Unfortunately, when cuts to the federal budget are considered necessary, it is the defense budget that is most often targeted. Today’s defense budget represents a manageable level of spending that is consistent with government policies that promote economic growth.

While the defense budget is indeed substantial in real dollars, it matches the current and future global responsibilities of the U.S. If policymakers or the next administration cut the defense budget now without considering America’s worldwide responsibilities or the likely geopolitical landscape the U.S. will face over the next five to 10 years, we’re setting ourselves up for disaster.