Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who was last in the news when he filed – and later settled – a lawsuit against the House cafeteria, took to C-SPAN to argue that the “cost of an expanded military is a huge factor driving our deficit.” Kucinich is totally off base here.

The Senate Republican Policy Committee sends around this corrective memo:

· “By FY2009, mandatory spending had grown to 60% of total outlays, with Social Security, Medicare, and the federal share of Medicaid alone comprising almost 41% of all federal spending.” The FY2011 Federal Budget, CRS Rpt. R41097 at p. 4.

· Table 1-2 on page 6 of the CBO Budget and Economic Outlook released earlier this year shows that mandatory spending (excluding TARP) in FY10 at $2 trillion was almost three times more than spending on defense at $690 billion.

· That same table shows that spending on Social Security alone was greater than spending on defense in FY10; and that spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid when combined was twice as much as spending on defense.

· Table 3-2 on page 56 of the CBO report shows that mandatory spending is estimated to grow by 10.4% in FY11, while defense spending is estimated to grow by 3.3%.

· Table 3-1 on page 54 of the report shows that mandatory spending was 13.2% as a percentage of GDP in FY10, and is estimated to grow by that measure across the ten-year budget projection; while defense spending was 4.7% as a percentage of GDP in FY10 and is projected to steadily decline by that measure in the same period.

Defense spending should of course be subject to the same scrutiny as all other federal programs in analyzing its efficaciousness, but it simply is not the case that defense spending is the primary driver of the current fiscal crisis.

Consider, also, this article wrote Tom Donnelly wrote for THE WEEKLY STANDARD:

… the whole idea that there must be a lot of wasted defense spending itself deserves scrutiny. That scrutiny should begin with a realization that America is fighting two wars and that the American way of war is to be profligate with dollars and parsimonious with lives. In fact, the greatest “procurement scandals” of the post-9/11 years reflect the bureaucracy’s tendency to false economies; believing for too long that the wars would be brief affairs and not wishing to be embroiled in “nation-building,” the Bush administration was slow to recognize the requirement for improved soldier body armor or protective vehicles like the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) trucks. Those MRAPs have little use beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, and it’s even the case that the monster models used in Iraq can’t easily be used in Afghanistan. To an economist, the $25 billion spent looks like an investment that will never be fully recouped. To a commander in battle, it’s an essential tool. For many soldiers and Marines, it’s been a life-saver. To an American citizen, it might be regarded as a moral obligation to the few who fight from the many who don’t.

And why should the U.S. military be simply indistinguishable from any other federal bureaucracy? If anything, the Pentagon is perhaps the sole example of an agency that accomplishes its mission. If the Department of Education taught our children as well as the Department of Defense does our fighting, then surveys of student achievement would find very different results. If Alan Greenspan had been as good at his trade as Gen. David Petraeus is at his, perhaps unemployment might be lower.

Resolving our government’s fiscal crisis is a question of political choice, not an accountant’s balancing of the books. It’s even more, as the Roadmap makes clear: it’s a moral question. Paul Ryan’s call is not simply for freer economic enterprise, but for the public virtues of limited but energetic government. This is a Whiggish argument about the purposes of government, not a libertarian argument about the size of government.

In a time of war but also when America’s military preeminence is in question on a variety of fronts – from Iran’s nukes to China’s missiles – those who believe that defense spending should be “on the table” in budget-cutting debates have an obligation to be specific about what they’re willing to do without. Gaseous appeals to waste, fraud and abuse are intellectually irresponsible and strategically myopic.

And as Fred Kagan wrote:

Defense spending has long been recognized as one of the single strongest stimulants to any economy. World War II brought America out of the Great Depression and into an era of enormous prosperity, just to cite the most obvious example. Current defense spending will not have that effect because it is so small compared to the size of the economy—it hovers at or below 4 percent of GDP.

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