Former George W. Bush speechwriter and current slightly-right-of-center pundit/gadfly David Frum posted a Tweet a few hours ago that referenced his article “American Hawks: Behaving Badly” in Canada’s National Post. It caught my attention, as I have recently been deluged by questions from those on the left of the seeming hypocrisy of the GOP, claiming to be pro-defense while at the same time participating in a process that will so clearly weaken the military. Seeing David Frum pick up this line of argument is not surprising to me, as he appears these days to make his bread from a continuous string of articles and appearances that can best be summed up as saying “Republicans would be much better off if they thought and acted like Democrats”.
That said, Frum (and others) raises a good point, one that has to be addressed. Why would GOP legislators be prepared to allow the sequester to continue and accelerate the ongoing hollowing of the U.S. military?
I had planned on writing about sequestration and its impact on the DoD last night, but as it turns out, Bryan McGrath has already done that for me.
A few thoughts on the implementation. If you didn’t notice, one of the major concerns about sequestration has been that between it, and the fact that DoD is operating under a Continuing Resolution, DoD has virtually no authority to shift funds from one account to another.
This is by design. The sequestration was a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff. As such, both sides strove to impose political costs on the other should sequestration actually come to pass. The GOP strove to minimize any possible loopholes that would render it toothless. The Democratic party strove to make any cuts to budgets as painful to GOP interests as possible. Fully half of the sequestration cuts come from DoD, which the Dems figured the hawkish GOP would move heaven and earth to avoid, lest they be called soft on defense.
Having said that, there was some discretion in how the cuts were to be made. While the sequester law calls for across the board cuts among all DoD accounts, it also allows the President to exempt certain accounts, provided the dollar amount exempted is made up elsewhere. For instance, the funding for personnel was, by law, to be cut by the same amount as any other. The President, however, has already signaled to Congress that he has exempted that account (otherwise, troops would either have to be summarily discharged, or go without pay). This was expected. But that dollar amount has to come from somewhere. With most of the procurement and R&D budgets already obligated during the first half of the Fiscal Year, virtually the only accounts left to raid were the various Operations and Maintenance accounts. These are big accounts, larger than the R&D and procurement budgets, th0ugh smaller than the personnel accounts.
Worse yet, DoD, via the White House, ordered the services to assume that sequester would not be implemented. Modest savings that might have been made in the first half of the year were not to be had.
In the short term, the effects will be awful. As Esli noted, his battalion simply won’t be able to roll any tracked vehicles for the rest of the year. No training above the squad level will take place. Having just finished a rotation at the National Training Center, the highly perishable skills they have will quickly atrophy. And indeed, the frustrations of many of the best and brightest will cause them to leave the service, in spite of the daunting civilian job market.
Worse, short term savings tend to have long term costs. The disruptions in depot level maintenance for major systems will mean the lifetimes of several platforms will be shortened. Replacement costs for those platforms will have to be paid sooner rather than later.
But as Bryan notes, for all the doom and gloom, it’s not the end of the world. The immediate impact this year is bad, but next year won’t be quite as bad.
Further, and more importantly, the GOP (and I!) see the explosive growth in government as the true threat to the United States. Our federal spending is 40% higher than it was in 2007. Do you really feel like you’re getting 40% better government? The effective taxation rate is currently running at about 25%, which is above the long term historical average of 20%, and history suggests it cannot long remain that high. Borrowing to fund this massive increase in government cannot go on forever.
Americans have always asked its servicemen and women to make great sacrifices in the defense of our nation. And this is one more. And it may be the most important one yet.
Because if we can’t get our obscene addiction to spending under control, there soon won’t be a Republic worth defending.