Can We Have the Best Military and a Balanced Budget?

The short answer is: yes, of course.

But listening to some Republicans, like Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, you’d think you could only have one or the other. In their view, you either want the best national defense in the world, or you’re an isolationist. You either spend the country into bankruptcy, or you want America to be weak militarily.

This is a false choice.

When Rubio proposes $1 trillion in new military spending, is it wrong to ask how he’s going to pay for it? Rubio and others can demagogue the issue and call people “isolationists,” but that dodges the fundamental issue of fiscal sanity.

Suppose Rubio were to propose $10 trillion in new defense spending, or $20 trillion, and someone asked how he planned on paying for it. Should the military get a blank check, meaning that whatever dollar number a politician throws out there is legitimate and valid?

It’s true that some aspects of our military need updating, and we should allocate the resources to do that. It’s also true that the United States spends more on the military than the next 10 countries combined. Federal officials ought to be good stewards of taxpayer money.

So what’s the solution? First, there needs to be an audit of all government programs, including the Pentagon. There is a great deal of waste in the military, as many within the military will tell you. We need to make sure that taxpayer dollars are being spent on worthwhile projects and that we are getting the best bang for our buck.

Secondly, if there’s going to be new military spending, like the $1 trillion that Rubio proposes, there ought to be offsetting cuts to go with them. Otherwise, the new spending just drives us deeper into debt. Rubio’s plan makes for good politics but terrible fiscal policy.

Let’s rewind to this past spring when Rubio proposed $190 billion in new military spending on the Senate floor. Republican Senators gave this measure the thumbs up, but no one thought of how to pay for it (meaning, the government would just borrow the money).

Rand Paul immediately drafted an amendment that would pay for the new defense spending with offsetting cuts in domestic spending. Rubio and almost every other Senator voted against the offsetting cuts.

This is how it works in Washington. Republicans want more military spending, Democrats want more domestic spending, and now we find ourselves with nearly $19 trillion in debt, on the path to $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities, with no way of paying for it. Due to reckless borrowing, one-third of our tax dollars will soon be paying just the interest on the debt, because politicians refused to pay for their programs, just as Rubio is doing.

Things are unlikely to change, because every government program has a constituency, and many of them have lobbyists, including defense contractors. Congress would rather hold onto their power than rock the boat and actually be responsible with taxpayer money.

After all, making the responsible choices would be bad politics.

During the debate Rubio said, “We can’t even have an economy if we’re not safe.” Clearly this avoids the real issue, but can I point out that the opposite is also true? We can’t be safe if we don’t have a stable economy. The national debt is now at the danger level of over 100% of GDP. Economists, the trustees for Social Security and Medicare, and the CBO all say our fiscal condition is “unsustainable.”

More government debt means higher interest rates, higher taxes, inflation (your money is worth less and everything costs more), anemic economic growth (less jobs, stagnant wages), and less revenue to the government (it’s cyclical), and all of this means…less money for the military.

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