One of the quirks we find ourselves facing is the social welfare programs with unsound Constitutional basis are “entitlements” and not discretionary spending, but the duties of government most explicitly outlined fall under discretionary spending.
First, the framers of the U.S. Constitution envisioned national defense as the priority obligation of the federal government. The first power granted to the president in Article 2 is “Commander-in-Chief of the Armies and Navies of the United States, and of the Militias of the Several States.” Of the 17 powers granted to Congress in Article 1, six relate specifically to defense, and the Constitution grants Congress the full range of authorities necessary to establish the defense of the nation (as it was then understood).
The other powers granted to Congress are permissive in nature; Congress can choose to exercise them or not. But the federal government is constitutionally obligated to defend the nation. Article 4, Section 4 states that the “United States shall guarantee to every State a republican form of government and shall protect each of them against invasion.”
I’m quite sympathetic to this argument. Further, Mr. Talent notes that the recapitalization of our forces could easily be funded with the unspent monies from the so-called “stimulus” (which was really nothing more than a bail-out of state social welfare programs, with some bonus pork thrown to traditional Democrat allies).
Congress could reverse the decline in military capability simply by capturing the unspent portion of the stimulus package and spending it judiciously on modernization over the next five years. As the panel report demonstrated, it is possible to marshal a strong bipartisan consensus for such an effort.
The problem is not budgetary. The problem is getting our government leaders to focus on the vital connections between strength, prosperity, and freedom. The best and cheapest way to protect American security is to sustain American power at a level that reduces risk, encourages global economic growth, and deters the wars that cost America so much in lives and treasure.
The elegance of this approach is that it would have the twofold benefit of first, restoring our forces material strength, and secondly, acting as true stimulus spending. Buying real, tangible equipment means manufacturing, which means good jobs in a wide variety of Congressional districts. That money gets spent in those communities. And that helps the local economies, and the economy as a whole.
I don’t support defense spending as a means of stimulating the economy. But I’m more than happy to tout that benefit of defense spending.
So how do I square this stance with my call below to axe several high profile programs? That’s simple. Defense dollars will always be limited. And I do not believe these programs provide a sufficient return on investment, if you will. I do not think they are the best way procurement dollars can be spent. Each of these programs are the legacy of the “transformational” school of thought that envisioned fighting a “Desert Storm Redux” and posited that would could fight those wars even cheaper by further leveraging our technological edge. Well, I certainly don’t want to sacrifice our edge, but there is a lesson that the Soviets knew that we should never forget- quantity has a quality all its own. There is simply too much land, sea and sky for our forces to cover if we maintain such a small number of platforms. The Navy, the strategic service of our nation, is already far, far too small. The Air Force is hurting badly. The Marines are still searching for relevancy in Afghanistan, when they should be focused on being America’s door-kickers, and strategic reserve. The Army, ironically, is probably in the best material shape, despite having borne the brunt of fighting in two wars the last 10 years.