Everyone agrees that there’s a lot of waste in Washington. Unfortunately, no one seems able to agree on what that waste is. One man’s pork project is another man’s lifeblood. When it comes to government spending, we have the equivalent of NIMBY, or Not In My Back Yard, except it’s Not In My District — no waste here. That’s why the self-imposed earmark moratorium is a minor miracle. But earmarks are only a snowflake hovering over the tip of the spending iceberg.
While we’ve probably not seen our last “Bridge to Nowhere” or federally funded study of bear DNA, after we’re done assigning the rightful shame that should be associated with such projects, we will have to get serious about the other 99 percent of the budget — i.e., where the real money is. Unfortunately, where the real money is in the federal budget is a holy land populated by sacred cows.
Liberals say publicly that they don’t want to touch Medicare, which is ironic considering they passed $500 billion in cuts to Medicare not to save the program but to spend on Obamacare. They also whistle past the graveyard on the topic of Social Security. Already running a $45 billion deficit this year, Harry Reid, Democrat leader in the Senate, said, “The reason they’re going after Social Security is that’s where the money is. They want to take money that isn’t theirs.” This is ironic for many reasons, but none larger than the fact that Democrats have long raided the money from the Social Security “trust fund,” leaving nothing but worthless IOUs and an even larger debt.
But, as we learned with President Obama and the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, not every pledge made publicly translates into an absolute in the political world. Considering the nearly $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities that Medicare and Social Security represent, any “hands off” pledge should be considered in the same way as any promise to be clean and faithful made by Charlie Sheen. It may sound like they mean it, but reality suggests otherwise.
Republicans are no different. While they get points for a willingness to address entitlement reform, something commonly referred to as the third rail of American politics, they lose points for drawing an unrealistic and unwise “line in the sand” around the military’s budget. To acknowledge waste, fraud and abuse in domestic and entitlement spending and that there are reforms and cuts that can be made to those programs is good, but to deny those same problems exist in the Defense Department is folly.
No one is proposing cutting pay for military personnel; the troops need and deserve all the support we can give them. But many of the programs the military spends billions on weren’t designed for the conflicts that we find ourselves in today, and many that seemed like good ideas at the time have been lapped by technology and circumstances and could be done better, more cheaply and more effectively by folding them into other programs.
One such program is the MEADS program. MEADS, which stands for Medium Extended Air Defense System, is a tri-national program that began in 1996 (Germany and Italy are partners in the program). It’s been plagued by cost overruns and delays since its inception. Despite 15 years of funding and development, MEADS has yet to field new air and missile defense capabilities and isn’t expected to be ready until 2018, at the earliest. What’s more, nearly everything the MEADS program was designed to do is expected to be done rather effectively by the Patriot Missile program by 2016, two years before the earliest estimate for when MEADS will be ready, and the Patriot is built in the United States while much of the MEADS program isn’t. MEADS, which has a $16.5 billion budget, is just one of thousands of programs the Pentagon is currently funding. How many more are redundant or out of date but slogging forward unquestioned?
If conservatives want the credibility that will be required to convince the public of the need to reduce and/or eliminate unnecessary and redundant domestic spending and welfare programs, they can’t turn a blind eye to the Pentagon’s excesses. The MEADS program is but one program, but one is a start. Any serious attempt to rein in out-of-control government spending will need to look at the entire budget and not carve out favored departments as beyond reproach.
A willingness to cut the budgets of conservatives’ preferred programs will give conservatives the moral authority they need to deflect some of the inevitable attacks liberals will unleash when conservatives try to cut liberals’ sacred cows. If one side isn’t willing to take the first step toward budgetary sanity, we’ll soon find ourselves too far down the road of fiscal insanity to ever find our way back. Let’s hope it’s not too late, and let’s pray conservatives start now.
Derek Hunter is a Washington based writer and consultant. He can be stalked on Twitter @derekahunter