In Washington, D.C., it is often necessary to restate the obvious. For that reason, I recently wrote a column for NRO explaining why conservatives should be for a strong national defense. I also pointed out one of the great ironies of the last twenty years: the bigger the federal government has become, the less well it has performed its primary constitutional function of defending the country.
In particular, over the last two years, our government has cut a trillion dollars from the next ten years of defense budgets. Half of those cuts were enacted in 2011; the other half are part of the sequester. Here, graphically, is what that means:
Former secretary of defense Bob Gates spent 2009 and 2010 cutting a number of modernization programs to save money in the Pentagon budget. In 2011, he proposed a series of modest increases that would have enabled the Department to begin recapitalizing its equipment and increasing the size of the Navy. The purple line represents the proposed Gates budgets. The yellow and red areas represent the cuts that were imposed by the Budget Control Act and the sequester to the CBO baseline, which was much lower than what Gates had proposed.
The upshot is that by 2020 the United States will be spending $100 billion less in real terms on its military than it was spending in 2010. We may well not even be able to defend our homeland against the asymmetric weapons which are proliferating around the world. But no one really knows, because the cuts were made with no consideration whatsoever of their impact on force structure, the national military strategy, or America’s foreign policy.
It’s much more likely that events will intervene before that happens, and force the government to begin rebuilding the military. That will cost much more than would have been necessary if the Gates budgets had been adopted in the first place. A steady budget plan is always more efficient than wild swings in funding.
As I said in my NRO piece, I understand why the House Republicans are tolerating the defense sequester. They can’t solve the budget crisis without comprehensive reform; they can’t get that without negotiating with the president; and they can’t negotiate with someone who won’t even recognize the problem. Perhaps the sequester will force the president actually to show some responsibility and produce a budget plan. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. Decisions have consequences, and bad decisions have bad consequences. There are rough times coming for America.
— Jim Talent is a former member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and is currently a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation.