During the John Adams administration, Americans were offered a chance to bribe their way out of a war. Most responded by chanting, "Millions for defense, not a penny for tribute."
These days, our political leaders might go for the tribute.
Spending money is easy, when it's somebody else's money. Political leaders are throwing hundreds of billions at domestic programs. Much of that money could be considered "tribute," as it's directed at big campaign donors such as teachers' unions and public employees.
Meanwhile, our leaders are cutting back on defense, even in the midst of a war in Afghanistan and ongoing terrorist threats. That's a mistake, because protecting our nation is one of the few jobs the Constitution specifically assigns to the federal government. Yet defense spending is about the only thing on the cutting block.
Consider missile defense.
If there was ever a system that ought to be non-controversial, this is it. A missile-defense screen destroys incoming weapons, but has no offensive uses. The U.S. has already deployed a handful of interceptors in Alaska and California, where they could help protect our homeland if North Korea continues its missile tests.
Another set of defenses is scheduled to be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic, where they would be in place to protect against the growing Iranian threat to Europe. That's American technology, serving as a gift to Europe while also protecting the U.S.
Our missile-defense systems pass test after test. Last month Navy ships detected and destroyed a short-range ballistic missile in the Pacific. The Missile Defense Agency points out "it was the 19th successful intercept in 23 at-sea firings for the Aegis BMD Program."
In fact, since the start of the Bush administration, 37 of 46 "hit-to-kill" missile-defense tests have succeeded. We're amazingly adept at "hitting a bullet with a bullet."
Strangely, President Obama wants deep cuts in missile defense. His next budget calls for a $1.4 billion reduction in missile-defense spending. That's roughly 15 percent less than we'll spend this year, just as the program is getting up and running.
The administration is also pushing to trim the number of Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Interceptors from 43 to 30. That makes no sense, especially with North Korea aggressively testing long-range missiles. Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warns that Pyongyang may be able to hit the continental United States with a missile within three years. We need to counter that threat with more defense, not less.
The missile-defense cuts are part of a pattern of overall defense retrenchments. Obama has called for the core defense budget to increase by an average of around $10 billion each year through 2014.
That may sound like a lot of money, but in fact it represents no real growth, even as spending on other programs will soar. Obama expects the core defense budget to amount to less than 3.3 percent of GDP in 2014, a sharp reduction from today's 4 percent.
Meanwhile, this year's "stimulus" package alone doubled the Department of Education's budget in one swift stroke. Soon, to rephrase a bumper sticker that was popular in the 1970s, the Air Force (rather than the PTA) really may need to hold a bake sale. It could use the proceeds to purchase new fighter aircraft.
Take the F-22A Raptor: The Obama administration wants to cap production at just 187 planes and shut down the lines that make the planes. This would be a mistake. We need more F-22As to meet current defense requirements.
The United States is unique in history. Our Navy dominates the seas as no other nation has ever dreamed. We use that force to protect international commerce, punish pirates and provide disaster relief. Our Army and Marine Corps boast the best trained, most disciplined, best-equipped ground force ever deployed. Yet instead of capturing land, we prefer to defeat terrorists and set up democratic governments. For more than a generation, our Air Force has dominated every sky it entered.
Maintaining these advantages requires financial investment. The administration's long-term plans would fall short. It's time to fix them.
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation.