The United States spends approximately $700-billion annually on its military, dwarfing the defence spending of any other country. It also currently faces a roughly $1-trillion budget deficit. Until recently, both major U.S. political parties appeared to recognize that these realities cannot be isolated from one another, and that the end of an era in which it fought two wars at once is a reasonable time to reduce military spending. Unfortunately, another reality – electoral politics – has now intervened.
The current plan for spending cuts – known as “sequestration” – can scarcely be called a plan at all. To resolve a budget crisis last year, Democrats and Republicans agreed that large cuts to both social and military spending would automatically begin taking effect in 2013, if the two parties could not agree on a different deficit-reduction plan before then. No such agreement has been reached, but neither has it been made clear what exactly those automatic cuts – totalling about 8 per cent over the next decade – would look like.
Leading Republicans have recently appeared to object to the idea of significantly cutting military spending at all. While presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney paints the defence cuts as a reckless scheme by President Barack Obama, high-profile senators – most notably John McCain – are travelling their country warning of the looming cuts’ “devastating” impact.
Many of the Republicans’ complaints centre on job losses in battleground states such as Virginia and North Carolina, where defence spending is a major source of employment. That’s a strange argument from a party that normally objects to excessive employment on the public dime.
Rather than fear-mongering about the dangers of spending cuts, Republicans and Democrats should work together so that they are carefully targeted rather than indiscriminate. Simply pretending that restraint isn’t needed risks eventually winding up with no choice but to impose cuts that really are devastating.