Cut Defense Spending, Save the Economy?

Budget hawks and defense hawks clash

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With the spiraling U.S. budget deficit cited as a primary reason for the recently failed jobs bill, there is rising concern on Capitol Hill about how to pay for the things--such as economic stimulus--we so desperately need. The Atlantic's Josh Green has a suggestion: Why not cut defense spending? It makes up 18.7% of the 2010 federal budget. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates insists we should spend less. Dwight Eisenhower said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed." Is Green right? Here are two arguments for cutting the Pentagon's budget and two arguments for keeping it intact.

  • Cut It: Plenty of Opportunities to Reduce  The Atlantic's Josh Green writes, "Overpriced, underperforming weapons systems are a hardy Washington perennial also ripe for the cutting. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and the V-22 Osprey -- all identified as potential cost savings in the task force report [pdf] -- have been targeted by reformers for years. No less a hawk than Dick Cheney has pronounced the V-22 'a turkey.' That we continue paying for these weapons makes even less sense now that terrorists, not communists, are the enemy."
  • Cut It: Defense Spending Should Go to Social Programs  The Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington writes, "while America's economy sputters down the road to recovery and the middle class struggles to make ends meet -- with over 26 million people unemployed or underemployed and record numbers of homes being lost to foreclosure -- the 'guns vs. butter' argument isn't even part of the national debate. Of course, today, the argument might be more accurately framed as 'ICBM nukes, Predator drones, and missile defense shields vs. jobs, affordable college, decent schools, foreclosure prevention, and fixing the gaping holes in our social safety net.'"
  • Keep It: Defense Spending Creates Jobs  The Weekly Standard's Fred Kagan writes, "A very large portion of the defense budget goes to paying the salaries of something like 5 million Americans. Since American forces deployed overseas do not live on the local economy, almost all of that money goes either to their families here at home or to the concessions that serve them abroad generally run by U.S. contractors. One can feel about contractors however one pleases, but U.S. contractors are American firms and their earnings and most of their wages also go back into the American economy."
  • Keep It: It's The President's First Responsibility  The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper writes, "The president's primary duty is commander-in-chief. Everything else is secondary. There is no mention in the Constitution that the president's duties also include, say, Social Security, health care mandates, Medicaid, Medicare, etc. The Tea Party folks understand this. They understand that the president has duties that he must carry out."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.