March 2, 2013
This week the talk about Washington DC centered on the sequestration that went into effect on 1 March, this past Friday. Through the squealing and groaning of closed parks and delayed flights due to no air traffic controllers, the major thrust of these cuts focus on the Department of Defense (DoD). However, before the various army bases across the country and Norfolk begin screaming the sky is falling, these cuts only amount to $22 billion this year less than what DoD had for the first half of this fiscal year.
According to the Cato Institute DoD spent $688 billion in FY 2012, and the vast majority of that spending went to operations and maintenance. The sequester is slated to cut $44 billion total this year, with $22 billion coming out of DoD. And it was this that prompted Leon Penetta to decry that DoD will have to furlough 800,000 civilian employees. This comes out to $27.5 million per employee.
There is little doubt that the sequestration will not cause that kind of catastrophic damage that DC is quaking over. In fact according to Jonathan Karl of ABC News, the federal government's total budget will still increase by $15 billion over what it spent in 2012. So now that the table has been set with all of these numbers the question is "What is all of this about?"
At the end of the day the United States continues to look at a national debt that is sitting around $17 trillion. This is an amount, if circumstances stay the way they are in DC, will never be paid off. This amount weighs on the private sector like a millstone around the neck of a baby chick, and if interest rates happen to go up just slightly, this millstone will increase drastically. The national security threat facing the US for the remainder of the decade will not be cuts to DoD, but a debt that seems to only increase each year at a faster pace than the previous year.
If the United States is to continue providing a security blanket to the West as it did during the Cold War, then it is going to have to choose between domestic entitlements and funding for defense. The ability to do both has now become impossible because those entitlements, which were once set aside for targeted groups like the elderly (Social Security and Medicare) or the impoverished, have now been expanded to encompass even the middle class. Though this trend began well before President Obama, he has done everything in his power to dramatically exacerbate the problem.
In this current furor over sequestration, and with the upcoming battle over another Continuing Resolution looming, the decision has to be made by Republicans and Democrats. Unfortunately for the Bill Kristol-types the DoD is an easy target for the Democrats to point to when asked about cuts, and the GOP seems all but ready to do the same level of battle over the CR as they have done with sequestration. There are certainly areas in the DoD that need to face the cutting knife, but if we are ever going to have any hope of at least bringing the debt down to a reasonable level we are going to have to, at some point soon, take on the entitlements or there will not be an economy to tax in order to fund any of it.
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