Want to Cut Federal Spending? Go Where the Money Is.

This op-ed was published today in newspapers in Arkansas and California.

We can trim the Pentagon’s budget without sacrificing national security.

By Ben Cohen and Jeff Blum

Pop quiz:

Name the last three presidents who significantly cut military spending.

If your answer is George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon, you would be correct. To address budget deficits, Bush I and Reagan, in his second term, reduced military spending by a combined 23 percent. Perhaps even more apropos to today’s fiscal realities, Nixon reduced military spending by a whopping 27 percent between 1969 and 1974 to pay for social programs he felt were important to our nation.

Legend has it that career criminal Willie Sutton, asked why he robbed banks, replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

If we are serious about cutting or redirecting our federal spending to important priorities like health care and education, we need to go where the money is, too. Roughly 59 percent of discretionary federal spending is military spending. That’s where we need to look.

The amount of savings we can realize by eliminating unnecessary weapons systems and scaling back our military’s ever-expanding role could total nearly $800 billion during a seven-year period, beginning in 2012 and continuing through 2018. That’s a cut of just under 15 percent.

What could we do with the savings? We could pay for health coverage for up to 40 million Americans each year. We could immediately stop firing hundreds of thousands of teachers. Eliminating these jobs is hurting our local economies and endangering our children’s future.

Don’t believe we can do it?

Gordan Adams and Matthew Leatherman are two experts who aren’t household names, but should be. They’ve penned an article for Foreign Affairs headlined, “A Leaner and Meaner Defense: How to Cut the Pentagon’s Budget While Improving Its Performance.”

The article discusses many things–the Pentagon’s proper role, weapons systems we don’t need, out-of-control costs associated with military payroll and pensions. Most importantly, it addresses how we choose between our desire to be the world’s sheriff and the urgent need to address our economy.

Along the way, the authors lay out a series of cuts that would save hundreds of billions over the next few years alone. Examples:

We could cut the F-35 fighter jet. That aircraft runs $90 million a pop. Stocking up on the 2,443 F-35s Washington wants will exceed $1 trillion. The Atlantic wryly notes that this is more than Australia’s gross domestic product.

We could scrap the V-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor aircraft designed to fly like a plane and take off and land like a helicopter.

Despite the $18 billion the Pentagon plans to spend on this gizmo beginning next year, the Osprey tilts too much. During testing, some 30 service members were killed in four well-publicized accidents.

We could drop part of our missile defense program, leaving in place our Patriot system but saving $34 billion beginning next year. We could cut the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, saving $24 million a pop. This vehicle, intended for amphibious assault, seems entirely superfluous, given that no amphibious landing has taken place in combat conditions for decades.

These are just some of their suggestions. There are others. What’s important is that the $788 billion in proposed savings wouldn’t make America any less strong and resilient. It would, however, better equip us to make investments that strengthen us at home.

It would also leave President Barack Obama occupying a rather unique place in history. He would be the first Democratic president since before World War II to actually cut military spending. That’s “change” we not only can believe in, but can pocket for our future.

Ben Cohen is a founder of Ben & Jerry’s and has been working for sensible defense policies for more than a decade. Jeff Blum is executive director of USAction, a federation of 24 state affiliates and partners that organizes for a more just America.

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11 Responses to “Want to Cut Federal Spending? Go Where the Money Is.”

  • Comment from seva

    Thank you for clearly stating the pain in my heart I fail at expressing with your great clarity. I would also encourage ALL to visit http://www.usuncut.org for the rest of the story. Love you guys!

  • Comment from steve-annie

    Great post and I couldn’t agree more. But what’s happened to all the cool stuff I used to buy on the TrueMajority website?? I went online to buy some more of their pens and pie charts, etc., and I can’t find the “store.” I hope you’re planning to bring it back!

  • Comment from Kathleen Sommer

    Thanks so much for all you do. I am so distressed by the state of the economy, the value of my home (my nest egg) down by half in the past 2 years, family and friends struggling to make ends meet, my sons unable to find meaningful work…and still we fight wars in Afghanistan and have troops in Iraq. Obama has lost what little courage he once had. When will we get mad enough to effect change?

  • Comment from JPoop

    I agree with most of the above, except the F-35. This plane is needed to keep in step with Russian and Chinese aircraft. This plane will serve in the USAF, USN and USMC which means common maintenance and logistics which means long term savings. Most of our aircraft were manufactured in the 70′s and 80′s, however painful, this plane is sorely needed.

    • Comment from Dan Brown

      I do think we should do whatever it takes to be sure we have best technoloy in the best trained military in the world. The cost of using them in police actions all over the world is the part I have issue with.

  • Comment from Joyce Skarzynski

    I want all congressmen and senators to look at their own operating budgets. I looked at just the staff payroll for senators as was astonished. NY Sen Kirsten Gillibrand had a $2,040,885 staff payroll in 2009 in 2010 that payroll went up One and One Half Million Dollars to $3,577,673 how is that possible in this bad economy. Remember this is just their staff payroll not all operating expenses. Even the small state of VT with a population of only about 700,000 people has a Sen Patrick Leahy running a staff payroll of $2,598,741 in 2010.
    They are spending too much. Never mind that they can not even make decissions.
    I truly believe they are so out of touch with the average american that they can no longer repreent us. It shows how out of touch they are when the last stimulus was $500. in your paycheck and they would only give it to us $10.00 at a time for fear we would SPend it.
    The only way out of this mess to to get the money to the people We Spend. We buy used cars. We pay rent and mortgages. We buy shoes and clothing for our children. We spend money which creates demand for products which creates jobs. How hard is this to understand. Giving big business, banks etc money does not solve it because they “”invest”" and hold money. They were the greedy ones that caused this mess. We know why they were bailed out. Reason Senators and Congressmen had financial investments in these banks etc and They Would Have Lost too much of there person investments.
    We need people in the government to know what is going on out here. Seeing they can increase their payroll budget by one and a half million dollars in a one year period shows how the “”Don’t Get IT.”"
    The people hurt the most were making from $40,000 to about $120,000 a year. These people now either do not have a job or have a job which is so low paying they have lost everything, home, car etc.
    Remember all the senator and congressmen’s offices do not generate an revenue. They pay there bills with our tax dollars….What are they thinking when they can increase this with half of us out of work and not paying any taxes

  • Comment from Joyce Skarzynski

    sorry for fear we would SAVE the $500.

  • Comment from Jhon James

    Reagan did a revitalization and huge increase in Military, that was one of his big programs, rebuilt and unmothballed Carriers and Battleships, and increased military spending.

    That is simply wrong.

    Reagan increased spending in all sectors in first term, and may have cut a little later, but hugely increased military spending.

    That is simply not true. Or all news at that time was backwards.

  • Comment from Al Harringtonson

    We really don’t need all those v-22 ospreys, they should be scrapped!

  • Comment from Robert F. Porter

    Great article, I’m very proud of knowing Matthew Leatherman when he attended Columbia University… Matter of fact, he has a lot more advice and suggestions to offer regarding the education budget.

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