It’s become a real trend: Big companies turn to the government to plead for hard cash. And politicians are listening — which is a problem.
In spending public dollars to pump up the private sector, Washington risks turning the Pentagon into a carbon copy of the bad businesses the government insists on bailing out. The problem is, when the Pentagon loses out to the competition, it endangers freedom and the nation’s future.
Everybody wants the government’s (i.e., the taxpayers’) money. Joplin, Mo., wants $8 million for two parking garages. Carmakers want a bailout.
What Joplin, Detroit, and everybody else wants adds up to about a trillion dollars to “stimulate” the economy. At the same time, the same politicians who want to throw money at almost everything often railed about deficit spending in the Bush administration. So to prove they are not as profligate as they really are, they are promising to not waste money.
“We’re going to have to make some hard choices in the months ahead about how to invest these tax dollars,” President Barack Obama declared in a pre-inauguration speech to the Democratic Governor’s Association.
Their plan to reduce some spending largely rests on cutting funding for defense (which the Constitution obligates government to do) to dole out money to Wall Street and Main Street.
“There’s going to be less defense spending,” declared Democratic Congressman John Murtha at public forum before military officials. A key defense leader in the House, Murtha pointed to the many times Washington has cut spending on the armed forces following wars and economic hard times. “If we use history as a guide, defense spending will come under increased pressure in the coming years,” he concluded.
That’s just the way Washington does things. And with the added pressure of paying for the stimulus package, lawmakers will probably want to follow that formula again.
In the past, however, Washington took a “peace dividend” following a period where it had mobilized for war. The long war from Iraq to Afghanistan was largely fought with a peacetime budget and a peacetime force. In fact, what we are spending in total on defense now (only about 4 percent of GDP) is what should have been average defense spending for the last 20 years. In short, Washington is planning on subtracting a “peace dividend” from an already peacetime military.
Cutting back on defense couldn’t come at a worse time. Like Detroit, the military has spiraling manpower costs and its modernization demands are growing at an unprecedented rate, with many ships, planes and tanks that are older than their crews. The difference is that Detroit got into trouble because of bad businesses practices. The armed forces are in trouble because when the Cold War ended, Washington under-funded the military and shrunk its size too much to cope with the troubles of the post-Cold War world.
Now there is a serious danger that the men and women of today’s force will become a “hollow military,” lacking adequate numbers, sufficient training and properly maintained equipment to get the job done and bring the troops back safe.
Obama was right when he declared, “We are not, as a nation, going to be able to just keep on printing money. So at some point, we’re also going to have to make some long-term decisions in terms of fiscal responsibility.” But, in pushing for a Godzilla-size stimulus, he would be taking a bad situation and making it much worse.
Governments don’t create wealth out of thin air. Washington’s stimulus plan would use new spending and taxes to redistribute existing income. It also would balloon the deficit and starve legitimate government enterprises such as, oh, “providing for the common defense.” Turning the armed forces into Chrysler could wind up the pitiful legacy of the new administration.
James Jay Carafano, a Senior Research Fellow for National Security at The Heritage Foundation, is the author of the book “G.I. Ingenuity.”
James Jay Carafano is vice president of foreign and defense policy studies The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JJCarafano.