Defense Budget Flip: Dick Armey – Cut the Budget, Obama – Slow the Increase

Every once in a while, the normal assumptions and labeling of politicians gets shook up when one of them steps out of their assigned box and suggests a breakthrough from the politics as usual. Last week, Dick Armey wrote an eye-opening editorial on Newsmax chiding the Obama administration for not really cutting defense, but instead, just planning to cut the increase.

Armey is a former Republican member of Congress and now the chair of FreedomWorks, the largest Tea Party “freedom” organization known for its grassroots organizing of the right. Armey correctly pointed out that Obama is slowing the increase in Department of Defense (DoD) spending, even though his Republican counterparts, including Bill Kristol, are claiming that Obama is severely cutting defense and decimating the DoD and US military readiness. He goes even farther than generally chiding his Republican members of Congress and questions their motivations for the cuts. From his editorial:

President Obama is not cutting a single dime out of the military budget. He is actually substantially increasing military spending over the next several years. Washington has once again cleverly disguised a spending increase as a “cut.”

This is how it all works: the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has a baseline that predicts what will happen over the next decade given current projections of taxation and spending. It shows that military spending will dramatically increase over the next ten years.

President Obama's $480 billion in military spending “cuts” are only from the bloated CBO baseline. This means that he is merely reducing projected military spending, as opposed to cutting current spending….

… Some Republican lawmakers such as Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (Calif.) called the nonexistent cuts “dangerous and irresponsible.”

How much of an increase in military spending will satisfy them? It's interesting to note that Rep. McKeon's top campaign contributors include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing Co., and General Dynamics. These defense contractors lobby for more military spending that would add to their company's bottom line.

It is amazing and surprising that Armey would go as far as hitting the motivations of Representative McKeon, who is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and question McKeon's loyalty to the defense contractor's political contributions.

He goes even further and talks about what I have been saying for decades, that the military uses the troops to justify their overspending and waste. “Unlike most other government departments, the DoD enjoys a protected status that shields it from serious scrutiny. An unfortunate stigma still exists that those who propose reasonable military spending cuts do not support the troops. But that is far from the truth.”

By lifting the stigma for questioning the amount of the defense budget, Armey goes on to say that the Pentagon budget “is filled with corporate welfare for the defense industries,” and says that pork barrel spending is a big problem. He says that overdone defense spending that raises the deficit is a national security problem in itself.

One has to wonder if he has had a Vulcan mind meld with the likes of Dennis Kuchinich and others on the left. He is certainly not going to be asked to many Pentagon Christmas parties next year.

If Armey is willing to join forces to truly cut the DoD budget with like-minded people regardless of political identity, real progress can be made. This is a moment where, perhaps, the stars will align to get some sanity in the defense budget, which Armey points out is “nearly half of all the military spending on earth.”

These types of coalitions have temporarily worked in the past. During the Reagan administration, when funding for the military seem to have no bounds, then-Representative Boxer (D-California) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) worked with me to expose DoD overpriced spare parts, which illustrated overspending in general. The public was so angry with $7,622 coffee brewers and $600 toilet seats that there was an uprising to do something about the burgeoning budget. Boxer and Grassley put in a bill for a defense budget freeze and, to the astonishment of the Washington insiders, it passed. Walter Mondale, the Democrat who was running for president, was only willing to suggest a 2 percent increase in defense – the same cut in the increase. The budget freeze only lasted a year, but it was a remarkable achievement during that time period, akin to a DoD budget freeze under George W. Bush.

I remember that Senator Grassley also spoke boldly, as a freshman senator swept in with the Reagan Revolution. He use to anger his fellow Republicans by looking at DoD waste and fraud. He would answer them by saying, “We were elected to sweep the welfare queens out of the Federal government and I am trying to sweep the welfare queens out of the Pentagon.” He still looks at DoD waste issues, but now toes the Republican line much more closely as the years have gone by.

So how is this a solution to make government work better? The DoD has had a stranglehold on the federal budget through many administrations, Democratic and Republican, due to fear of looking “soft on defense” if you truly cut the budget. Only joining forces with political factions that you may not always agree with may be the only way to demystify the DoD hiding behind the troops and expose their dangerous spending follies to the public. Dick Armey has taken a first step in that direction and people of good will on the left and right should take him up on his call to not exempt the DoD from cuts and much needed reform. As Armey has boldly said,” Military spending should not be a sacred cow. We cannot afford to completely avoid certain parts of the budget.”

Who in the Democratic and Republican party will pick up the phone and join forces with him on this very specific fight? This is how you can start to make government really work.