55 House Members Tell Deficit Commission Cut Defense

Isaiah J. Poole

Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul top a list of 55 signers of a letter to the White House Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform calling on the commission "in the strongest terms" to "include among its recommendations substantial reductions" in future defense spending.

In a briefing with reporters, Frank, D-Mass., said that he has reason to believe that the commission will take the letter seriously. He said that while conversations he has had with the two commission co-chairs, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, have not led to specific commitments, he said considering reining in defense spending is definitely on the table.

"We are in a zero-sum game" in which the nation either has to reduce its defense spending or make cuts elsewhere that will reduce the quality of life for Americans, Frank said. Given a dysfunctional budget process in Congress, the deficit commission, Frank went on to say, "is the first time you will have a forum in which these choices can be made."

Frank also said that decision-makers on Capitol Hill are suffering from a "cultural lag" that leaves them making military spending decisions based on a Cold War geopolitical scene that has long ceased to exist. "We can scale back our military expenditures down to what is in our own national interest" based on current global threats and the ability of our allies to defend against them, Frank said.

The effort was organized by the Project on Defense Alternatives, which has done extensive research on ways to cut the defense budget.

The letter spells out the rationale for defense spending cuts:

The Department of Defense currently takes up almost 56% of all discretionary federal spending, and accounts for nearly 65% of the increase in annual discretionary spending levels since 2001. Much of this increase, of course, is attributable to direct war costs, but nearly 37% of discretionary spending growth falls under the “base” or “peacetime” military budget.

… Much of these potential savings can be realized if we are willing to make an honest examination of the cost, benefit, and rationale of the extensive U.S. military commitment overseas, which in large part remains a legacy of policy decisions made in the immediate aftermath of World War II and during the Cold War.

…We also think that significant savings can be found if we subject to similar scrutiny strategic choices that have led to the retention and continued development of Cold Warera weapons systems and initiatives such as missile defense. While the Soviet Union and its allies nearly matched the West’s level of military expenditure during the Cold War, no other nation today remotely approaches the 44% share of worldwide military spending assumed by the United States.

… Additionally, we believe that significant savings can be realized through reforming the process by which the Pentagon engages in weapons research, development and procurement, manages its resources, and provides support services.

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