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Commission outlines $1 trillion in defense budget cuts

pentagon2 Commission outlines $1 trillion in defense budget cuts

A bipartisan commission of defense experts has released a plan that would reduce the US’s defense spending by nearly $1 trillion over 10 years — a plan sure to gather support from progressives and libertarians, but unlikely to pass through Congress.

The commission’s report comes at a time when public concern about the US’s national debt has hit a fever pitch, and the claim that nearly $1 trillion can be saved from defense spending will certainly color future debates about what government services to cut.

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, put together at the behest of Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) to “explore options for reducing the defense budget’s contribution to the federal deficit without compromising the essential security of the US,” recommends saving $200 billion by reducing the presence of US troops in Western Europe and the Far East, and reducing total troop strength to 1.3 million.

The report (PDF) also recommends eliminating “costly and unworkable weapons systems,” for a savings of $130 billion, and reducing the US’s nuclear arsenal to 1,050 warheads, for a savings of $113 billion.

The commission, which includes members from conservative groups such as the Cato Institute and from liberal groups such as the Center for American Progress, also recommended “a strategy of restraint that would emphasize the ability to bring force from the sea to defeat and deter enemies rather than putting large numbers of troops ashore in extended operations.”

In all, the savings are expected to total $960 billion.

Rep. Frank joined libertarian Texas Republican Ron Paul and a number of other legislators to release the report Friday.

“With our nation staring down the barrel of record deficits, the Pentagon budget’s explosive growth is unsustainable,” task force member Laura Peterson, of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said in a press release. “There’s plenty of fat to cut from the military budget without compromising our safety. In fact, military and political leaders agree that economic stability is vital to our national security.”

But despite the political appeal of lower deficits, Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent suggests the commission’s proposals won’t become law because “[f]ew communities of Washington wonks run into greater structural and institutional obstacles than advocates of reduced defense spending.” Writes Ackerman:

Defense companies put billions into PR campaigns for the necessity of this or that project that runs over cost. Legislators have every career incentive to lard the defense budget with job-creating bloat for their districts. The media treats civilian and military spending as two entirely different entities, with military spending emerging from a magical, never-ending fountain of cash. And then there’s the general jingoism that equates curbed defense spending with a deficit of patriotism.

Writing at FireDogLake, David Dayen also doubts the recommendations will ever be enacted, but notes that “having this debate out in the open is important. At least a small sliver of official Washington doesn’t consider military spending magical spending that has no cost to the bottom line.”

Including the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, The US defense budget for fiscal year 2011 is $708 billion, up from $691 billion the year before. When other defense-related costs — such as aiding domestic counter-terrorism operations and providing veterans’ health care — are added, defense costs this year exceed $1 trillion.

A program to cut $960 billion from defense spending over 10 years would see about $96 billion cut from defense spending, on average, per year.

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