The Mighty Military Budget

One surprise in the president's budget is how lightly the axe falls on military expenditures, a large source of possible savings. As Ezra Klein points out, the big winner unquestionably is Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whose budget is being trimmed by only $78 billion over a decade. (Must be something about the job--Reagan's defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, was the big winner in the last great budget battle...do you suppose Gates also used G.I. Joe posters to make his case?) 


One reason why this is somewhat surprising is that there seemed to be quite a bit of momentum in both parties to finally cut the military budget, which has grown enormously in the last decade. Traditionally, Democrats are frightened of proposing cuts because they fear being portrayed as weak, while Republicans don't want to propose them because they favor a large military, deficits be damned. Both those attitudes have showed signs of changing. Last summer, Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul led a bipartisan effort to push for cuts. But the interest was broader than that. One indication was that all three of the Democrats who ran for ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee--Reps. Loretta Sanchez, Silvestre Reyes, and Adam Smith--said they were strongly committed to substantial cuts in military spending. Some Republicans, too, appeared open to the idea. Majority Leader Eric Cantor indicated a willingness to consider military cuts, and several Tea Party groups, including the Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks, have also embraced the idea, for the obvious reason that it could go a long way toward cutting the deficit.

That now seems unlikely. It's hard to believe that the Republican leadership will go further than the White House in proposing cuts to military spending, so whatever negotiations take place are likely to involve relatively paltry sums. Maybe something will change the political calculus--maybe the members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget will gather, Egyptian style, in Lafayette Square and force the issue. But probably not.

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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