Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reducing the Deficit By Saving a Nickel Here or There While Ignoring Big Ticket Items

Congressional Republicans want to reduce the deficit. Good for them. It’s a laudable goal. The question is, of course, how. We could of course discuss raising taxes, especially on the wealthiest Americans, but even that discussion appears to be off the table for the GOP. I won’t spend time right now going into the details of a lot of the things that Republicans do want to do (like changing Medicare and/or Medicaid to voucher programs and then reducing the available benefits in order to give more tax cuts to the wealthy). There will be plenty of time to discuss those “big picture” sort of issues and the months to come.

But I do want to focus on one idea that really shows how disingenuous Republicans really are when it comes to cutting the budget. When we look at the budget, we have to divide it into discretionary and non-discretionary spending. Non-discretionary spending is just what it sounds like: Expenditures that we are obligated to make, such as payment on debts, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and so on. Non-discretionary spending includes everything from earmarks to foreign aid to defense spending. And it is that last item that I want to address.

The current budget for the Department of Defense is approximately $680,000,000,000 (that’s $680 billion) give or take a few dozen billion here and there. It would seem like there might be some room in that budget to find some savings. Like perhaps canceling weapons programs that the Pentagon says it does not want and does not need (or which do not work). But Congress has been loath to cut programs like that which, even though they are unnecessary and unwanted, bring jobs back to local Congressional districts. Or we could look into reducing what we’re spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, but we know that Republicans, in particular, seem loath to even address that idea (other than some of the newly elected Tea Party representatives).

But wait: The GOP has come up with a way to reduce the deficit by cutting the defense budget. This is so stupendous that I can’t believe nobody thought of this before; it may just be the panacea for all of our budgetary problems on both the state and federal levels. What have Republicans found that they can cut from the defense budget to solve our crisis? Are you sitting down?

The Republicans have introduced a plan to eliminate color photocopying in the Defense Department for a massive savings of $37.5 million per year. Now I’m not suggesting that $37.5 million isn’t a meaningful savings. After all, that savings will be enough to allow us to fund an extra 2½ hours of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Or, think of it this way: Right now, we’re spending about $4 million per day for our actions in Libya. So by cutting out color copies, the Air Force can bomb Libya for 9 more days.

I think that this plan is demonstrable evidence that the Republicans are disingenuous about their plans to make hard choices to reduce the budget. And I think that it shows that they are just stupid.

Why stupid? Several reasons: First, so far as I’ve seen, that $37.5 million is the only cut from the defense budget that Republicans are proposing. It’s OK to cut social services and education and to refuse to tax the wealthy, but the only way we can cut the defense budget is to eliminate color copies? Republicans don’t want to cut out weapons programs that don’t work, they don’t want to cut out programs that the military doesn’t want, and they don’t want to reduce funding for wars that most Americans oppose (or have at least tired of). To keep funding wasteful weapons programs is at best stupid; at worst, well, it’s something else.

Second, has there been any sort of evidentiary analysis of whether those color copies might be needed? Take for example imagery of a terrorist training camp or a village where insurgents might be gathering. Is it just possible that the soldiers tasked with a particular operation or even those planning the operation will be able to do a better job if they have the benefit of color in the photos or maps that they’re using? If all that we’re talking about is color photocopies of NCAA basketball brackets, grocery coupons, or memos from one general to another, then eliminating color copies probably makes sense (though it seems that it would be hard to find $37.5 million in savings there). But shouldn’t the query be needs based rather than automatic? And before answering that, remember that Congress has refused to cut funding for weapons programs that the military does not need or want.

So, it appears that we’re looking to cut something that might be needed (at least in some cases) that will have little real impact on the overall budget while at the same time refusing to even contemplate cutting weapons programs or wars that are a major drain on the budget.

Again, I’m not suggesting that any savings that we can find isn’t worth examining. But I am suggesting that if we (and especially the GOP) are serious about cutting the budget that we look at all options, including overall defense spending, wars, and tax increases. To find a tiny little expenditure like this one (tiny in the federal budget sense of the word) and use it as the only cut in defense spending, without examining potential necessity, is just stupid.

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