Defense Spending Remains Difficult to Cut

For all Robert Gates’ efforts, Congress is still reluctant to reduce military spending.

In recent months, American defense secretary Robert Gates has been waging a fierce battle with the defense establishment and industry about a series of announced budget cuts. Gates understands that austerity is necessary — “If the Department of Defense can’t figure out a way to defend the United States on half a trillion dollars a year,” he said last year, “then our problems are much bigger than anything that can be cured by buying a few more ships and planes” — but also politically expedient. If the Pentagon doesn’t start trimming its budget now, Congress is likely to interfere next year with cuts that will be more severe than what Gates is proposing.

Phil Ewing at The Scoop Deck commends Gates for his keeping ahead of what he describes as the “535-headed monster known as America’s legislative branch.”

He has been tossing scraps of meat over his shoulder to try to slow it down: command closures, efficiency efforts and tough talk about the profligate spending in his five-sided office building. But the scraps apparently aren’t enough — a Senate subcommittee voted this week to cut $8 billion from this year’s defense budget, including a whole littoral combat ship, and more snips could be on the horizon.

That’s not the whole story though. Ewing points out that Congressmen as Todd Akin and Gene Taylor of Missouri and Mississippi respectively are boasting that they have rescued certain defense programs. While some lawmakers are pressing for spending cuts, “others are advocating the Pentagon to spend more!”

So even as the reports continue to roll in about tomorrow’s austerity, or a “new era” in the defense game, things seem pretty normal.

Secretary Gates, who is reportedly considering to retire from the Obama Administration after this November’s midterm elections for Congress, still has a tough fight ahead. With the defense lobby fretting about his supposed spending “cuts”, the other side is urging him to scrap even more expensive procurement projects currently under consideration.

But if Gates has his way, the armed forces won’t actually have to do with less. Rather he intends to slow down the ballooning of defense spending that occurred after the attacks of 9/11. The secretary wants the Defense Department to do with just 1 percent budget growth a year. That will still leave defense to amount to about 20 percent of total federal spending and the American military by far the most powerful fighting force on the face of the earth.