Click here to listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on KTBB AM 600, Friday, January 5, 2012.
Have you ever been quizzed about money? Have you ever been put on the spot about your spending? It’s never pleasant but it is very frequently useful. Some questions, the answers to which would be quite useful, popped into my mind yesterday.
President Obama made a rare appearance at the Pentagon Thursday to announce a plan to make deep cuts in the defense department budget. Among other provisions, tens of thousands of ground troops will be cut from the rolls and the ability of the U.S. military to conduct two ground wars simultaneously will be eliminated. You have to believe that the bad guys are taking notice.
The president says the plan reflects a more balanced and realistic assessment of military spending in an era of soaring deficits. Well if the president is worried about soaring deficits, great. It’s about time.
I have no doubt that the Pentagon wastes money. I have no doubt that there is glaring and obvious inefficiency and that a top-to-bottom review would produce billions in savings. We all remember $800 aircraft toilet seats and $500 coffee makers. The Defense Department is, after all, a part of the federal government.
But if money is the issue, for crying out loud what about the rest of the government? Why the defense budget first? Say what you will about the Defense Department when the American military gets put in the field, the job gets done. Can that be said of other cabinet-level departments?
Why isn’t the president looking for a more balanced and realistic assessment of spending at the Department of Education for example? Since Obama took office the budget for the Department of Education has more than doubled, from $32.4 billion to $71.5 billion. The federal government has never spent more money on education and yet graduation rates and test scores continue to get worse. Is there not even the slightest possibility of cutting some spending at Education?
What about the Department of Energy? When it was formed in the Carter administration in 1977 the biggest justification for creating it was to help bring about American energy independence and to end reliance on imported oil. Of course we now import more oil than ever. Assuming that dissolving the department entirely is off the table, is there nothing of the $27 billion budget that might be trimmed and could we not live with something fewer than the department’s 16,000 federal employees? After all, it was the Department of Energy that gave us Solyndra.
The list goes on. What about the $700 billion and the 71,000 employees of the Department of Health and Human Services? Or the $43.7 billion and the 12,400 employees of the Department of Housing & Urban Development. Why no press conferences about cutting these departments?
Again, I have no doubt that a department that employs over 2.1 million civilians and uniformed personnel and spends over half a trillion dollars would benefit from a close order examination of its budget. But given that we still live in a dangerous world and given that the size, scope and spending of the civilian departments of the U.S. government have never been greater, if we’re looking to cut the deficit could we not look at departments other than defense first — or at the very least simultaneously?
Of all the cabinet-level departments just mentioned, defense is the only department whose function is specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. So why is the president’s sudden burst of fiscal rectitude directed at the military?
The answers to these question taken together constitute the big deal for this presidential election. The answers to these questions can and should inform your vote come this next November.