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:
· “When robot squirrels attack – (CA) $325,000 – An NSF grant was used to create a robot squirrel to study how squirrels and rattlesnakes interact. Previous research on this relationship already exists.”
· “USDA’s caviar dreams – (ID) $300,000 –USDA gave a grant to a caviar producer in Idaho for marketing.”
· “Smokey Bear balloons – (Department of Agriculture) $49,447 – USDA pays to have a Smokey Bear hot-air balloon at festivals in the Southwest. Money could be used for a DC10 tanker to fight wildfires.”
· “Government-funded study finds golfers need to envision a bigger hold – (IN) $350,000 – NSF funds go to a study of how golfers can putt better if they envision the hole is bigger.”
· “Science research dollars go to a musical about biodiversity and climate change – (NY) $445,444 – NSF funds spend on a musical about biodiversity and climate change. Reviews of the play said it was boring and needed improvement.”
· “Should grandma and grandpa play World of Warcraft? – (NC) $1.2 million – Researchers study whether the elderly could play World of Warcraft to increase their cognitive function. They used NSF funding.”
· “Crazy for cupcakes! – (Small Business Administration) $2.0 million – Taxpayers are on the hook for $1.8 million in loans to cupcake boutiques from the Small Business Administration.”
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:
· 120 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters
· 2 Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers
· 7 Virginia-class attack submarines
· 9 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers
· 1680 AH-1 SuperCobra attack helicopters
· 170 RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles
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.