Inside the beltway, there is a pervasive sense of impending doom. The rest of the country may not much care, but sequestration is here. According to warnings by the Obama administration, failure to avert these automatic spending cuts will lead to planes falling from the skies, bridges collapsing, federal penitentiaries moving to a voluntary self-incarceration policy, and the Jersey Shore returning to the airwaves. Nevermind that if these things actually mattered to the president he could have fought to prevent them.
But on one issue there should certainly be a sense of doom: defense cuts and competition with China. While President Obama may have suddenly discovered newfound appreciation for naval shipbuilding, he had no problem scaling back the Navy’s shipbuilding program during his first term. Sequestration on top of the hundreds of billions of dollars in defense cuts already on the books threatens to hollow out the military in ways that will be detrimental to U.S. national security.
It’s useful to consider just how incredible this self-created national security crisis is. Last October, Senator Tom Coburn released “Wastebook 2012” (here’s a summary), in which he lists 100 unnecessary outlays and tax loopholes totaling over $18 billion. Number one on the list? “The most unproductive and unpopular Congress in modern history does nothing while America struggles,” at a cost of $132 million. Other highlights include:
That $18 billion, or even some portion of it, could be put to better use for defense capabilities relevant to Asia, as America’s competition with China heats up. China’s ongoing confrontation with U.S. ally Japan and the PLA’s massive U.S. cyber campaign make that clear. $18 billion could buy DoD one of the following sets, or some combination of these in smaller numbers:
And if future programs are more to your liking, then in exchange for fewer cupcake boutiques, fewer musicals about biodiversity, and greater numbers of mediocre golfers, we could accelerate our next generation bomber program, naval unmanned air combat systems, or directed energy weapons.
China may have its share of fiscal problems, but there is little doubt that China’s soon-to-be president Xi Jinping is more fond of a strong national defense than his American counterpart. As we cut more, we will soon hear Beijing announce another double-digit percent increase to its own defense budget. We suppose it is possible to pivot or rebalance to Asia—but not as long as Washington politicos don’t value national security over Smokey the Bear. Only the federal government can “provide for the common defence,” as the Constitution requires. It’s time for the president and Congress to get serious about this most important of responsibilities.
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