Over the course of my career as a Marine Corps officer, the U.S. military was the most powerful and respected force on the planet because we invested in recruiting the best personnel and providing them with the best training, equipment and leadership. We put that power to good use in defending freedom around the world.
Will our military be able to continue in that vital role? Not if Washington continues on its current fiscal path, with massive annual deficits that have resulted in a $16.4 trillion national debt. Deficits and debt are on a path to hollow out our military capability, unless President Obama and Congress take action to restrain spending now.
Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has warned that “the most significant threat to our national security is our debt,” because it is bound to result in a weaker military.
How do our leaders in Washington respond to this threat? Thus far, the only “solution” President Obama and his allies have presented is higher taxes.
But the federal government already collects $7 billion per day in tax revenues from hard-working citizens. Meanwhile, the federal government spends roughly $10 billion per day — which is the reason we have faced annual budget deficits of more than $1 trillion and a crushing national debt. Yet our leaders in Washington cry “foul” whenever anyone raises the issue of restraining spending.
However, they do appear eager and willing to cut spending in one area: defense. And with additional steep budget cuts of some $500 billion slated to go into effect in March under the process of “sequestration,” our defense capabilities will be in even greater jeopardy.
As a retired Marine colonel, I recognize that wasteful and inefficient spending is widespread in the Department of Defense (DOD) and should be minimized as much as possible. But I also know that our military’s share of the federal budget has decreased since the end of Cold War, and that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines need the best equipment and training to accomplish our nation’s missions abroad.
The FY 2013 defense budget request is currently $613.9 billion, including $88.5 billion for overseas contingency operations. According to a recent report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the deficit for this year is projected at $845 billion. That means that if you were to completely remove DOD from the budget — closing down the Pentagon, demobilizing all the armed forces, closing down all the weapons procurement programs and calling it a day — we would still have a deficit of over $140 billion this year (and the deficits would extend for years thereafter).
Obviously, eliminating DOD funding from the federal budget is not realistic; even the most dovish members of Congress wouldn’t call for such a radical step. But there is one viable path to fiscal sanity: reforming entitlements. Getting a handle on spending in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is absolutely essential to restore our nation to fiscal responsibility.
As my generation continues to retire, Medicare and Social Security are on an unsustainable path, consuming a greater share of the federal budget than ever before. If nothing is done, both Medicare and Social Security will become insolvent, leaving those in need of these programs left without a safety net.
President Obama vowed he would address these problems in his first term, and even convened a blue-ribbon commission on deficit reduction (Simpson-Bowles) to study the challenge and provide a course of action. But he has ignored the commission’s findings and recommendations.
If our national debt prevents us from properly funding our military, then it is only a matter of time before our nation’s security, or the security of our allies around the world, will be threatened. Already, China, a potential adversary, holds a significant amount of our nation’s debt. Is it wise for a foreign power, and a potential adversary, to have such influence over our purse strings? You don’t have to be a retired Marine officer to know the answer is “no.”
Our leaders in Washington must place us on the path of fiscal responsibility by reducing spending and reforming entitlements, while protecting the ability of our military to defend and preserve freedom around the world. Time is running out, and our nation’s security depends upon it.