Military a bargain next to retiring boomers
Created on February 4, 2009
Military Readiness Depends on a Consistent Investment
By Ken McIntyre
Maintaining and modernizing our armed forces doesn't just
protect America, it fulfills the Constitution's mandate to "provide
for the common defense."
Yet the defense budget appears to be one place where President
Barack Obama and Congress are looking to offset massive new
spending elsewhere -- "stimulating" or otherwise.
"The Pentagon faces a $100 billion annual shortfall in its
procurement and modernization accounts," warns Kim Holmes, vice
president for defense and foreign policy studies at The Heritage
Foundation. "The question facing Mr. Obama is not whether to
trim a few expensive and unnecessary weapons systems, but whether
he is willing to forgo America's military edge by skipping or
delaying construction of the next generation of modern
Specially trained troops, updated equipment and "smart" weaponry
to counter tomorrow's threats are both necessary and a relative
bargain for taxpayers, their children and grandchildren, Holmes and other Heritage analysts conclude.
The crushing burden comes from the rapidly escalating cost of
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
Even before 77 million baby boomers retire in great numbers, the
government is spending more than twice as much for the three major
entitlement programs than for the military as a percentage of the
U.S. economy (as the chart above shows).
In coming decades, the cost of entitlements will
leap from 8.4 percent to 18.6 percent of gross domestic product
(GDP). Without reform, our well-intentioned promises will require
raising taxes by the equiva­lent of $12,072 per household or
eliminating every other program -- including defense,
transportation, housing and education.
Entitlement spending first outpaced the defense budget in 1975,
growing from 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1965 to
8.5 percent last year. Defense spending, which fell below 5 percent
of GDP in the early 1990s, had almost hit 3 percent by the time
terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Detroit got into trouble because of bad businesses
practices," Heritage national security expert James Carafano
writes. "The armed forces are in trouble because Washington
under-funded the military in the 1990s and shrunk it too much to
cope with the threats of the post-Cold War world.
"Spiraling manpower costs and modernization demands are growing
at an unprecedented rate, with many ships, planes and tanks older
than their crews,"Carafano adds.
Some in Congress, including Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), predict
more defense cuts. Others agree with Heritage that maintaining our
military capability requires spending the equivalent of at least 4
percent of GDP on defense for five years or more. They seek to
put that commitment into law.
"The recession may make meeting a 4 percent commitment
politically more difficult," Holmes notes, "but only because we
have not yet had an honest debate about where most government
spending has been going."