Challenging a sacred cow of the federal budget

US Senate candidate, Tom Campbell, issued a list of specific cuts he’d propose to restore fiscal sanity to an out of control the federal budget.  However, the military budget was completely neglected.

Campbell offered a number of thought provoking assessments regarding the moral, fiscal, and security implications of gargantuan budget deficits and over $12 trillion of national debt.  His proposals to use TARP money to pay down the debt,  methodically cut welfare spending, slash the Dept. of Education, force Amtrak to compete in the free market, end corn ethanol subsidies, and cease bailout guarantees for Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, will certainly receive high marks from fiscal conservatives, especially those in the GOP. 

But, he failed to even mention the bloated military budget.  In 2007, Robert Higgs, of the Independent Institute, calculated that America spends nearly $1 trillion a year on its military, both at home and abroad.  With the escalation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, plus President Obama’s latest record military budget, this two-year old figure has quite possibly passed $1 trillion annually.  Consider the fact, too, that the federal government employs over 200,000 private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Congress is unable to estimate the true cost because of waste, fraud, and bureaucracy.  Consider also, that the same defense contractors who sign lucrative contracts with the federal government, are actively arming some of the most oppressive regimes in the world.   

Why is it then, that the military budget is off limits to fiscal conservatives?  Why is it that the military budget is off limits to President Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner whose proposed three-year federal spending freeze does not apply to the military?  Even Speaker Pelosi, a notorious big spender, recognizes this clear cut contradiciton.

While most would recognize that national defense should be a top priority based on a simple reading of the Constitution, the fiscal contradiction of a $1 trillion budget would appear to be stark.  The U.S. military, the intelligence community, Homeland Security, and private contractors are all, directly or indirectly, branches of the federal government.  Therefore, fiscal conservatives, who often criticize the waste, inefficiency, and deficit production of virtually every other federal program, are making a seemingly contradictory “exception to the rule” with the military budget.  Shouldn’t it too be subjected to more fiscally conservative scrutiny?

Ironically, while Campbell presciently draws attention to our massive debt to China, he and other fiscal conservatives appear to miss a crucial point regarding China’s rise on the world stage.  China, even with its quasi, but increasingly capitalistic system, is able to generate huge trade & budget surpluses, national savings, a renowned manufacturing base, a more scientifically literate population, and a more robust military capability, precisely because it does not spend trillions on multiple, overseas wars and a global military presence. 

Perhaps there is a critical lesson to be learned here.