Spencer Ackerman on the Co-Chairs Defense Proposal

Over at Wired’s Danger Room, Spencer Ackerman gives a broad overview of the proposed reductions in defense expenditures in the Simpson-Bowles plan. They call for killing a number of new vehicles and weapons systems that have been plagued by cost overruns, and, more controversially, for taking on mounting personnel costs:

Bowles and Simpson want military non-combat pay frozen at 2011 levels for three years, which will result in $9.2 billion in savings — including “$1.6 billion in less retirement accrual,” sure to be controversial. A third of the 150,000 troops stationed in Europe and Asia should come home, leaving “a substantial military force on both continents” and saving $8.5 billion. The research, development and testing budgets should be cut by a tenth, another $7.5 billion. Military healthcare premiums should rise by an… unspecified amount for another $6 billion. Slash defense contracting and save another $5 billion. And so on.

My sense is that many on the right will balk at these cuts, which I consider a mistake. The United States can and should have a powerful, effective military, but we need to contain the dramatic increase in personnel costs. Over the long-term, more unmanned aerial vehicles, including unmanned air systems that can carry cargo and transport troops, will help. For now, however, we’ll have to rely on blunter instruments. I will say that I tend to think it’s best to give leaders of bureaucracies discretion with regard to how they’ll handle something like a pay freeze, i.e., freeze the overall wage bill, but allow some employees to receive more generous compensation while others are made redundant, etc.  

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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