If Republicans want to cut spending, they should start with the Pentagon

The first big test for the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives is the looming crisis involving the debt ceiling, which GOP lawmakers say they will not vote to raise unless Democrats, including President Joe Biden, agree to cut spending.

And the first big test of whether Republicans are serious about cutting spending is their ability to identify anything they would actually be willing to cut.

So far that part has been a problem.

For example, this is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R–Ga.) explaining the House GOP’s demands to NBC News earlier this week: “There has to be spending cuts. It has to happen.” So far so good. But when a reporter followed up with a question about which cuts Taylor Greene would support, the congresswoman responded by saying, “I haven’t really formulated an exact list.”

OK, maybe that’s somewhat unfair. Taylor Greene, after all, is better known for her willingness to engage in ridiculous conspiracy theories and culture clashes than for her political moves. But the same conundrum seems to plague many Republicans, who have so far done a better job of identifying what they refuse to cut — Social Security, Medicare or military spending — than specifying what they’d be willing to put on the chopping block.

“The Republicans have very serious budget demands. Unfortunately, I cannot identify what those demands are,” he summarizes The Washington PostCatherine Rampell. “Republicans say they want lower deficits—in fact, they’ve promised to balance the budget (that is, without any deficit) within seven or ten years. But they haven’t laid out any plausible mathematical path to achieving that goal.”

The closest thing to an actual plan is a one-page document released by the Republican Study Committee. It promises to balance the federal budget by the end of the decade by implementing “common-sense reforms to reduce spending and related inflation.”

What are these reforms? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The fundamental problem for Republicans is that it is nearly impossible to balance the budget without cutting entitlements or the military. In fact, you would have to cut 85 percent of the rest of the federal budget, according to an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which advocates for lower deficits.

As fun as that is to watch, it’s just not politically possible.

Which means there’s only one path forward, the path laid out Wednesday by Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.).

“We have an opportunity here. It could be done. But it would take a compromise between both parties,” Paul said during a brief news conference held by a group of Senate Republicans. “Republicans would have to give up the sacred cow that says we will never touch a dollar in the military [spending]and the Democrats would have to give up the sacred cow that they would never touch a welfare dollar.”

Yes, Republicans. The time has come to recognize that budget cuts will have to hit the Pentagon as well.

As they should. If any other department of government could not account for billions of dollars in assets and had never successfully passed an audit, it would be placed at the top of the list of wasteful spending that Republicans wanted to cut. And they would be right to do so!

However, dress up a welfare program in camouflage and it suddenly becomes an intangible asset. It’s unpatriotic to even suggest that maybe military contractors shouldn’t get a 3,800 percent markup on spare parts, or that the nation will still be safe if we don’t spend $1.7 trillion on new fighter jets that may never work.

Remember how we finally ended the war in Afghanistan in 2021? You wouldn’t know it by looking at the military budget, which has continued to increase even as the war on terror winds down. “The Congressional Budget Office found that if current trends continue, the Pentagon could receive a monumental $7.3 trillion more over the next decade, more than was spent during the peak decade of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, when up to 190,000 American troops in those two countries,” William Hurtung, senior fellow at the Quincy Institute, which advocates for a more realistic American foreign policy, wrote last year.

Republicans need a plan to cut spending? Here’s one. The Center for International Policy, a foreign policy think tank, has described how the military budget could be cut by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years by doing the things conservative Republicans say they want, such as avoiding foreign wars and cutting red tape.

These are not radical ideas. They should be a necessary part of any debate about reducing the deficit and managing the bloated national debt. And, unlike Social Security changes—which should also be on the table—they wouldn’t significantly affect the working-class voters Republicans are increasingly trying to woo. No one in western Pennsylvania or eastern Kentucky will be upset that the military-industrial entrepreneurs who live in Fairfax County’s McMansions will become a little less rich over the next decade.

“Everything would have to be looked at crosswise. No one has a sacred area that would be immune,” said Paul. – It is a responsible thing.

He is right. But that can only happen if Republicans recognize that protecting the military budget from possible cuts makes neither fiscal nor political sense.

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