Why Does the Spending Freeze Exempt the Military?

President Obama's announced freeze on non-military discretionary spending will be chewed over by analysts and spit on by both liberals and skeptical conservatives. But one aspect of the policy that won't receive much chewing over is its qualifier: "non-military." Even during periods of great deficit hawkery, it's become rote in Washington to consider military spending impregnable to the forces of budget cuts. I think this is a horrible mistake.


Last year I wrote an article for the Daily Beast that asked the White House and Congress to debate the Afghanistan escalation as though the additional resources were real money, paid for by real taxes, whose addition counted against our real deficit. Here was my last paragraph:

To be sure, there is a dimension to the Afghanistan debate that goes far beyond red and black ink. There is no mechanism for the CBO to score the critical bank-shot of securing Pakistan by strengthening our presence along the Afghan border. Also, scaling down could help our financial integrity in the eyes of the Chinese, but it will impugn our moral integrity in the world's eyes if we permit a reign of extremist terror marked by scourges of stonings. I don't mean to combat our generals' advice with my own. I'm only calling for elected officials to consider the cost of war just as they would consider the cost of any other use of taxpayer dollars. Generals on the ground advocating for an expensive counterinsurgency are only reciting their best opinion. That's their job. The president should balance their recommendations with our capacity to fulfill them. That's his.

The Obama freeze does not "consider the cost of war just as [it] would consider the cost of any other use of taxpayer dollars." The Obama freeze does the opposite. It treats military spending as something too precious to be touched by the frostbite.

My point is not that military spending deserves an X-percent cut. My point is that military spending should not be exempt from the debate on how to cut costs. This spending freeze, if it follows through, will put extreme pressure on Democratic and Republican officials to determine which programs they need, which can withstand smaller budgets, which should be forced to become more cost-efficient, and which can be scrapped to spare the most important services from cuts. Why shouldn't our military face a similar exercise in self-reflection?