Tag Archives: defense

Why We Have a Debt Problem, Part 23

By James Kwak

So, we have eleven aircraft carrier groups. No other country in the world has more than one. Everyone who has looked at the issue has agreed that we could do with fewer than eleven while still achieving our national security goals: Bush/Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Obama Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and think tanks on the left and the right.

But apparently we can’t retire even one–even though we would save not just the annual operating costs, but most of the $4.7 billion it will cost to refurbish over the next five years. Instead, the Obama Administration has promised the Pentagon that it can simply have more money and not comply with the spending limits set in the 2011 debt ceiling agreement (and modified by Murray-Ryan).

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Does Lindsey Graham Think Before He Opens His Mouth?

By James Kwak

“The debate on the debt is an opportunity to send the world a signal that we are going to remain the strongest military force in the world. We’re saying, ‘We’re going to keep it, and we’re going to make it the No. 1 priority of a broke nation.’  ”

That’s Lindsey Graham, as reported in the Times today (emphasis added).

Graham is trying to make the case that we should undo the automatic reductions in defense spending mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (last summer’s the debt ceiling compromise). But as a conservative Republican, he is also wedded to the notion that the United States is “broke.” (Which, of course, is nonsense. If you’re not sure why, see chapter 5 of White House Burning.) Graham has also signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, meaning that the federal government can only solve its fiscal problems by cutting spending, not increasing tax revenues.

To make this balancing act work, Graham makes the claim that a country that is “broke” (again, his word) should continue to make military spending its top priority—including military intervention in both Syria and Iran. Does he really think that, under that assumption, we should continue slashing domestic spending so we can continue paying for expensive overseas adventures? Yet this is the unavoidable, nonsensical conclusion of today’s Republican orthodoxy.

The Impossibility of Defense Cuts

By James Kwak

Apparently the thing we need to keep ourselves safe is a fast, lightweight ship that can sweep mines, launch helicopters, fight submarines, and perform other assorted duties—but can’t withstand heavy combat. I don’t claim to know if we really need the Littoral Combat Ship to ensure our national security. According to an article in the Times, John McCain—the Republican Party’s last presidential nominees and one of the Navy’s more famous veterans—is critical, although other Republicans and the administration are in favor of it.

I do know that the Littoral Combat Ship is a classic example of why it’s so hard to reduce budget deficits. You have local politicians who want the jobs. You have a large group of representatives who are reflexively pro-military and will vote for anything the Pentagon wants, and even things the Pentagon doesn’t want. (You have Mitt Romney, who bemoans the fact that the Navy has only 285 ships, the fewest since 1917. Would he rather have the Royal Navy of 1812, which had 1,000 ships, or our navy, with eleven aircraft carrier groups—while no other country has more than one?) You have a procurement and development process that stretches on for years so that even when a weapons system turns out to be a dud, it has to be kept alive because it’s too big to fail—there is no other alternative. Both the Center for American Progress and the Project on Governmental Oversight have recommended cutbacks in the Littoral program. Yet there is no practical way to check its momentum.

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