Here is the Town Hall meeting with Representative Vicky Hartzler (r) in Sedalia, Missouri.
Yesterday I noted in passing that the Ryan Budget gave the Pentagon more money than it had asked for or wanted. It is, of course, even worse than that – Rep. Ryan actually accused the generals – those folks the GOP are so keen that we defer to when their positions are more convenient – of lying (h/t Ed Kilgore):
We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice,” Ryan said during a forum on the budget sponsored by the National Journal. “We don’t think the generals believe their budget is really the right budget….
Kligore also notes that our own Rep. Todd Akin (R-2) also got into the act:
… The lament that the Pentagon must be protected from cuts reached the point in the Budget Committee markup last week that Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) began listing all the wars for which he felt America had been unprepared: He included “the War for Independence.”
Typical Todd. Embarrassing for Missourians, but aside from that does anyone wonder just why GOPers like Akin are so determined to shower unwanted funds on the military? Kilgore sees politics at play:
All in all, it appears House Republicans are so upset that they were backed into a bipartisan agreement last year (though it was basically an agreement not to agree, and to put into place a failsafe spending cut mechanism to punish them if they continued to fail to agree) that they want to put on a demonstration of what Congress would be like if there were no Democrats in it. Democrats should be very grateful.
And I am grateful. But I also wonder how much this determination to continue wasteful military spending has to do with defense industries at home. Pork in other words. That would explain Akin’s difficulties parsing the concepts attendant on military waste. Certainly explains why it’s now the done thing in GOP circles to question the judgment of the military managers they are usually so eager that everyone else defer to.
Ever since Social Security became the law over 75 years ago, there have been conservatives who wanted to kill it, finding the very notion that elderly or disabled people should retain any dignity or independence after their productive years have passed anathema. If you’re no longer “useful” in their particular definition of the word, then you’ve got a lot of damned gall even thinking you should be able to stay out of poverty.
What the hell right does Grandma have to a flu shot and a living allowance? There are a lot of ways that money could be better spent, so far as they are concerned. It could be used to pay down the debt, or it could be invested on Wall Street. All Grandma does is spend it on rent and groceries and the like. She just pisses it away, staying out of poverty, the parasite.
As best I can tell — I sometimes have trouble translating “bloodless goon” into ordinary, American English — that is at least part of Robert Samuelson’s position in his latest post at Real Clear Politics. That, and making sure that the deficit problem that Bush and the GOP Congress created gets solved by making the people who have realized no benefit from the Bush tax cuts and can least afford it pick up the tab:
Suppose we increased the federal gasoline tax by 25 cents a gallon, from 18.4 cents to 43.4 cents. That would raise $291 billion over the decade from 2012 to 2021, estimates the CBO. Or we could advance the ages for early and full Social Security benefits; one suggestion is to raise them (now 62 and 66) by two months a year until reaching predetermined targets (say, 64 and 70). The CBO reckons the decade’s savings at about $264 billion. How about slowly moving Medicare’s eligibility age from 65 to 67. The savings: $125 billion.
Are we finished? Nowhere near. At most, these crowd pleasers would make noticeable dents. Recall that the deficits total almost $10 trillion over the next decade under President Obama’s original 2012 budget. That’s the point: even discounting the effects of the deep recession, prospective deficits are so large that they can’t be cured by tinkering. We should be asking basic questions:
— How big a government do we want? For four decades, federal spending has averaged 21 percent of gross domestic product. An aging population and high health costs mean that average spending, as a share of GDP, will rise by a third or more in the next 10 to 15 years if today’s programs simply continue.
— Who deserves government subsidies and how much? About 55 percent of spending goes to individuals, including the elderly, veterans, farmers, students, the disabled and the poor.
— How much, if at all, should social spending be allowed to squeeze national defense?
— If taxes rise, how much and on whom? What taxes would least hurt economic growth?
Perhaps Samuelson calls an increase in the gas tax a “crowd pleaser” because it would hit those at the bottom of the economic ladder the hardest, since simple economics dictates that the lower the rung one occupies the less likely they are to drive a newer, more fuel-efficient car — and cashiers and construction workers don’t have a telecommute option to exercise. But let’s not get distracted with the gas tax issue, because what he really wants to do is eviscerate the social safety net.
He is being disingenuous at best and deliberately dishonest at worst when he says “the deficits total almost $10 trillion over the next decade under President Obama’s original 2012 budget. That’s the point: even discounting the effects of the deep recession, prospective deficits are so large that they can’t be cured by tinkering.” That same CBO that he touts in his very first ‘graph also says that if nothing is done, other than simply letting the Bush tax cuts expire and tax rates return to the Clinton-era levels, the deficit disappears.
Now let’s answer some of those questions that he says no one is asking.
When he asks how big we want our government to be, he is starting from a faulty premise. It isn’t the size of government that matters, it is the quality. When he asserts that our “aging population and high health costs mean that average spending, as a share of GDP, will rise by a third or more in the next 10 to 15 years if today’s programs simply continue.”
What he is surely smart enough to know, but is betting that his target audience isn’t, is that he just made the perfect argument for single-payer healthcare, most easily achieved by expanding Medicare to cover everyone and then allowing Medicare to negotiate the price of medications and assignment schedules. Healthcare is the problem, and we are decades behind the rest of the developed world in coming to that realizations and moving away from the ridiculous “market based solutions” that conservatives are so fond of.
Then he asks just who, exactly, deserves to be subsidized by the government and how much subsidy they deserve. I answer that question with “children and the elderly” and I believe that human beings deserve more investment than the “defense” budget that currently eats up more than half of every dollar the government spends, either killing or preparing to kill other human beings.
When he asserts that currently, 55 cents of every dollar the government spends “goes to individuals” he is deliberately and dishonestly fudging his numbers. He is including Social Security in that number, but Social Security is not part of the general fund. It is a separate, self-funding entity. Workers pay in a few dollars from every paycheck on the first $106,800, and at retirement start receiving a monthly benefit. As it currently stands, the Social Security trust fund is perfectly solvent for at least 25 more years — if we do nothing. It would be solvent in perpetuity if the earnings cap was raised and high-earners paid in on all of their income.
His next question, though, really cuts to the heart of what really drives every conservative – how much should social programs “be allowed” to “squeeze” the spending on the military? What drives conservatives is fear. They are different from you and me. They are fearful and scared and will pay any price to feel “safe” in a world that is constantly changing and evolving and moving on without them. It is a sad and specious strawman argument. The United States currently accounts for 42.8% of all of the military spending in the world, but we only have 5% of the world’s population. Compare that to China, the most populace country in the world, which accounts for a mere 7.3% of global military expenditures.
It’s simple math – the biggest piece of the pie is the place to start cutting off slivers. The military budget is the biggest piece of the pie – and after a certain point, the amount of money we spend doesn’t make us more safe, but instead does just the opposite.
When he asks how much taxes should rise, and on whom, and which ones would least hurt economic growth, we know his answer. He gave it to us at the start: He has no problem at all with taxes that disproportionately hit those who can least afford it. Conservatives like to pretend that taxing the rich would keep them from creating jobs. Yet during the Bush years — and he pushed through two rounds of tax cuts in his first term – American jobs disappeared, not to be replaced, every single year, we didn’t gain them.
s on those at the bottom, on the other hand, hampers economic growth. The less money one has, the faster they spend it when it comes in. They buy groceries and clothes and gasoline, and they pay rent and utilities. Those are dollars that circulate through the economy locally and add a little stimulus at every stop along the way.
Samuelson concludes with the familiar palaver about means testing and raising the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare – even though Social Security is not part of the general fund, and the cost of health care is the underlying problem that is causing our money woes.
If we actually did what he suggests and put off Medicare eligibility a couple more years, it would be a false economy. Imagine all the people who would be wiped out financially by medical bills between the ages of 65 and 67…assuring that many more seniors would pass his odious “means test” before accessing that which they paid into all their working lives.
This post is part of a series I am writing as a blogging fellow for the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, a coalition of more than 270 national and state organizations dedicated to preserving and strengthening Social Security.
I fully expect all hell to break loose this afternoon when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announces significant changes to several dozen Pentagon programs that will shift military spending from massive Cold War type weapons systems to counter-insurgency programs that are geared toward fighting the ‘small wars’ that will dominate our conflicts in coming decades. The plan Gates will unveil tomorrow will boost spending in less-expensive programs while slashing huge amounts of money from big, expensive (and increasingly obsolete) programs.
And that is why all hell is going to break loose.
Congressmen absolutely love their big, shiny, expensive
weapons jobs programs that keep the funds coming in to their districts and their asses firmly affixed to their congressional seats.
Defense contractors are going to be bringing tremendous pressure on congressmen, and those congresscritters are going to protest mightily.
One of the programs that is expected to be gutted – and with good reason – is the Army’s Future Combat Systems. FCS is a high tech boondoggle that has more bugs than an infested tenement and a price tag that exceeds $150 billion dollars.
No branch will be spared. The Air Force and the Navy will have some toys taken away, too. Also expected to be cut is a $20 billion communications satellite program, the ridiculous missile-defense shield program, and the elimination of one carrier group.
“He is strategically reshaping the budget,” said Gates’s spokesman, Geoff Morrell, who declined to provide details. The secretary is “subjecting every program to harsh scrutiny, especially those which have been over budget and/or behind schedule. . . . The end result, we hope, is a budget that more accurately reflects the strategic priorities of the president.”
Gates has signaled for months that the Pentagon’s resources are misallocated, but his embrace of the budget increase proposed by President Obama represents an abrupt turnaround. Late in the Bush administration, he blessed a military-service-driven budget proposal for 2010 packed with $60 billion in spending beyond what the Pentagon had earlier recommended. Much of the added funds would have accelerated the production of existing ships, airplanes, Army vehicles and missile defenses.
The proposal became known among some analysts as Gordon England’s “fairy dust,” after the deputy defense secretary who helped put it together. The name suggested the magical touch that would be needed to win a proposed 14 percent budget increase amid a global recession.
President Obama agreed instead to a 4% increase in Pentagon spending – which meant Secretary Gates would have to realign the spending priorities for the DoD. The realignment has been so all-consuming that Gates skipped traveling to Europe to participate in the celebration surrounding the 60th anniversary of the founding of NATO.
Several experts said the Pentagon budget plan last year was an effort to force the hand of a new administration and stands as a textbook example of military service pressures that have driven the growth in recent years of the defense budget, which has more than doubled since 2001. The 2009 total of $513 billion — not including special Iraq and Afghanistan war costs — exceeds the combined military budgets of the next 25 highest-spending nations.
The timing and size of the much higher proposal that Gates initially presented to the transition team “are provocative,” said David J. Berteau, a former Pentagon official in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.
A current Pentagon official who is disenchanted with past allocations of resources said, “It shines a light on the internals of the department: a culture that lives to grow its resources and make that the whole measure of merit.”
Of course, anyone speaking so frankly and honestly about the Pentagon budget spoke on condition of anonymity.
To fully appreciate the significance of the looming battle, we have to look back to the spring of 2008 when the effort to win political support for a much higher level of spending started when Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, started arguing forcefully that military spending ought to be (a staggering) 4% of GDP. This assertion stemmed from Mullen’s core conviction that U.S. spending prior to 1994 was about right, and that President Clinton was wrong to move away from that and spend slightly less. Mullen sees the 4 percent target as “not an absolute number, but a good minimum starting point,” says Navy Capt. John Kirby, Mullen’s spokesperson.
To that end, a group headed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, approved details of the budget plan favored by Mullen and got busy supporting it. Almost half of the budget was in support of what the Pentagon calls a persistent overseas presence, which entails at least ten combat brigades, a proposition that costs a hell of a lot of money. “Our forces are likely to be deployed around the world for the foreseeable future,” said a Pentagon official who supported this approach.
The group led by England and Cartwright not only advocated a budget of $584 billion for the next year, they wanted hundreds of billions in additional spending over the next five years, and that is where the “fairy dust” notion gained traction. Evan as they advocated it, proponents knew that the odds of getting what they wanted were miniscule.
Gates never led the effort, or even had involvement that was more than peripheral, but he nonetheless insisted that the results be ready by Election Day – a date that was so early it raised eyebrows.
After the election, he explicitly obtained authorization from the Bush White House to brief the incoming administration’s transition team. Morrell said Gates was not attempting “to squeeze or pressure the new administration”; rather, the information was presented as “a conversational piece.”
The Obama team didn’t get rolled, no matter that those attempting to do the rolling had a veritable constellation of stars among them. They flatly rejected the size of the proposed increase and the recommendation to set aside billions now for permanently garrisoning so many combat brigades overseas. Gordon Adams, who served the incoming administration as an expert on national security was blunt when asked how he interpreted the message from the Pentagon: “I saw this very much as an effort to jam the system,” he said. “It didn’t matter who ended up in the White House. If they decided to go below that number, it would be like they were cutting defense.”
Two months after he took office, President Obama addressed the Pentagon budget, saying “We’ve already identified potentially $40 billion in savings just by some of the procurement reforms. . . . And we are going to continue to find savings in a way that allows us to put the resources where they’re needed, but to make sure that we’re not simply fattening defense contractors.”
My opinion of Bob Gates has evolved since he became Secretary of Defense, as witnessed in the following excerpts from previous posts:
I have long said of Gates that I don’t much care for the man, but I sure as hell respect the talent. Two years ago I said this about him:
Now I am no fan of Bob Gates. I absolutely detest him. Not because he is a Republican (he has never been a registered Republican, he has always been an Independent) but because I know his past work. He is an ideologue of the first order and the original facts fixer. But I’m not stupid. I know skill when I see it. Where Rumsfeld was
a bureaucratic knife-fighter, Gates is the guy who would poison the coffee pot, pour himself a cup of tea and go to his office and quietly work through the morning and then step over the bodies on the way to lunch.
I don’t like him, but I don’t underestimate him.
Two months later I wrote this after LtC Paul Yingling called out the brass:
Make no mistake – this is happening for one reason and one reason only…the SecDef has bestowed his blessing on senior officers to speak out. (But why? Gates doesn’t have his morning coffee without considering four agendas that no one else knows about.)
I am watching Gates operate right now, and wondering, frankly, just what the fuck he is up to.
He is a rogue Secretary – the one man that Karl Rove has no dirt on – in fact, the inverse of that is probably true. He is the one man in the administration that the Mayberry Machiavellis can not control, and that wildcard makes watching the interactions between the White House and His Father’s Man, sent to save him, interesting. Especially if you are familiar with Gates earlier work, as I am. I detest the man, don’t trust him any farther than I can throw a bull by the tail; but damn, I respect the talent.
By December 2007, three months after Blackwater murdered 17 Iraqi civilians in a busy traffic circle,I was glad he was in his post.
Let’s make sure to give credit where credit is due: Bob Gates started moving pieces around the board immediately after the unprovoked attack, attempting to get the “contractors” under control. I’ve said this before and I’ll probably say it again about Gates: I don’t like the man, but I respect the talent. Sometimes, I can almost admire the old prick. Almost…
In fact, since he took the job in November 2006, my respect for his talent has become admiration for his ability. He has absolutely proven to be the best man for the job and frankly, I am quite pleased that President Obama offered him the job and relieved that he agreed to stay on. If I ever find myself face-to-face with him, I will tell him so.
Since his reappointment, Gates — who has demonstrated an uncanny ability to work seamlessly with different administrations — has come out in favor of Pentagon belt-tightening due to economic conditions that have deteriorated. “Everybody must recognize, and frankly all the service chiefs do, the economic climate we find ourselves in,” Morrell said in February. “These guys don’t live, you know, in a cave somewhere or in a vacuum.”
That’s the Pentagon. They are, of necessity, at least a little bit, practical and pragmatic.
Congress and defense contractors, on the other hand, are not. And when they get a look at the numbers tomorrow, and the new reality sets in, there is going to be much gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth, and howls of agony will surely fill the air.
And I can’t wait. I have been waiting a long, long time for this. There are going to be a lot of congresscritters swallowing their tongues and changing their undies when they realize that they might have to actually run on the issues and their voting records in future elections, instead of defense contracts that pour hundreds of millions into their district every year.
Especially the republicans who have opposed all efforts to stimulate the economy. When their constituents realize that not only has the gravy train left the station, but their republican representatives in congress didn’t even want them to have a bus ticket, constituencies are likely to say “so what the hell good are you, anyway?” and vote for “anybody but this asshole” the very next chance they get.