All Hail the Failure of the Supercommittee

The supercommittee of Republicans and Democrats has failed to come up with ways to reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. Even though $1.2 trillion dollars seems like a lot, it pales in comparison to the whopping accumulated national debt of $15 trillion, which is dragging the economy into sluggishness and possibly even a second recession. But believe it or not, the supercommittee’s failure is good news — or at least better news than what it would have produced had an agreement been reached between the two big-government parties.

As negotiations within the supercommittee were shaping up, both Republicans, usually hypocritical on tax and budget issues, and Democrats, more honest but shameless, were advocating deficit-reduction packages that would have included tax increases. When Congress chartered the supercommittee, it said that if the panel could not reach $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction or Congress or the president rejected its package, an unpopular decision rule would be invoked — across-the-board budget cuts of the same amount would take effect in 2013. Granted, the $1.2 trillion in budget cuts is still small, across-the-board cuts are not so across-the-board because most domestic entitlement programs are omitted, and time still exists before 2013 arrives, thus permitting congressional evasion of the decision rule. Still, the rule laudably only cuts spending and avoids tax increases.

Such automatic cuts rankle the welfare queens of both parties. On the left, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine, has recklessly argued that no budgetary crisis exists — only an employment crisis. Of course, believing in Keynesian economics allows her to advocate the continued piling up of debt, which is already at staggering levels, in order for the government to give people make-believe, make-work jobs in the short term while dragging the economy for years to come.

On the right, the Republican defense welfare queens have made an even bolder effort to renounce the previously legislated decision rule — because about half of the $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years would have to come from defense. Although Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has hyped the ill effects of such added cuts on defense by calling them “devastating,” President Obama has laudably threatened to veto any repeal of the decision rule by Congress. We may be in bad shape as a country if the president turns out to be the biggest budget hawk in Washington.

Cutting another $500 billion or so from the defense budget over 10 years, added to the $450 billion already cut during the same period, would still amount to only about 15 percent of the annual defense budget. Because the defense budget has ballooned more than 50 percent since 9/11, a cut of such magnitude should be not threaten national security. The budget to defend the United States — a fairly intrinsically secure country with vast oceans as moats, weak and friendly neighbors, and nuclear weapons to deter any unlikely conventional attack — doesn’t require spending what the next dozen or so countries combined spend on security.

But what specifically could be cut out of the defense budget to get the $500 billion in savings and more without hurting security? Lots.

  • End the unnecessary and costly quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. It looks like that might happen in Iraq, but not because of U.S. preferences; instead, the fed-up Iraqi population is kicking U.S. forces out.
  • Let’s bring home and jettison from the force the 160,000 troops remaining in Asia and Europe — long after the Cold War is over. Unfortunately, like other politicians, Obama, with his recent plan to station American troops in Australia, can’t bring himself to believe that we can no longer afford an American empire.
  • Increase substantially health-care premiums for military retirees — which have not kept pace over time with the civilian health-care sector — closer to the civilian level.
  • Cut the bloated nuclear forces from thousands to hundreds of warheads and reduce the nuclear infrastructure associated with designing, building, refurbishing, and maintaining them.
  • Reduce the nuclear triad to a slimmed-down dyad by eliminating land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and paring down the number of nuclear ballistic missile submarines and nuclear-capable bombers.
  • Now that the ground-intensive Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires are winding down, reverse the increase in expensive U.S. ground forces to a level below that of 9/11.
  • The increased use of drones and a much lighter U.S. military presence overseas should allow the number of Air Force air wings to be cut by a quarter and Navy aircraft carriers to be reduced by about 50 percent, to six vessels. If carriers are cut, their surface escorts can be cut too. There is no need for a 300-ship Navy.

The following weapons programs should be canceled or cut back:

  • The exorbitantly expensive and nonfunctioning national missile defense.
  • Fewer air wings (both Air Force and those for fewer Navy carriers) will require the purchase of fewer fighter jets in the F-35 program, the most expensive defense program in world history.
  • The Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle is not needed, because the amphibious-assault mission seems to be obsolete.
  • The V-22 Osprey. Although two-thirds of the money has already been spent, the aircraft is not only unneeded, but grossly over cost and behind schedule; the remainder of the program can be cut.
  • Cancel the remainder of the Virginia-class attack submarine program. Existing U.S. submarines are vastly superior to any other submarine fleet in the world.

Of course, the last refuges of defense industry scoundrels to avoid such cuts are “patriotism” and jobs. But supporting a bloated budget to defend a declining empire has nothing to do with real patriotism. As for jobs, the cuts will cause some people to be laid off, but the scarce resources saved can be more efficiently used in generating more productive jobs in the civilian sector.

Author: Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and author of Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty.