The United States faces many challenging problems but the biggest one of all is our national debt, right now 77% of GDP, the largest since right after WWII, and predicted by the Congressional Budget Office to keep getting steadily worse without major changes in current policy.
The only practical way to reduce the debt is to start shrinking our annual deficits, $680 billion for the current 2017, down to a much lower level, ideally close to zero, over a limited time period, perhaps ten years or so. This urgent need will, of course, be very difficult to accomplish.
Military spending. The military analyst, Mark Helprin, makes a cogent argument that the most effective way to defuse the North Korean nuclear threat is for President Trump to ask Congress “for an emergency increase in funding to correct the longstanding degradation of American military power.” This would, among other things, provide for “a vigorous acceleration of every aspect of ballistic-missile defense.”
Omaha Rapid Bus Transit. Omaha NE (where I live) is spending $15 million in local funds for a $30 million bus system upgrade, subsidized by the Federal Transit Authority, which has an annual budget of $8.6 billion. The new ORBT will have sleek 60 foot-long buses as well as 27 individual modern bus stop shelters at a cost of $260,000 each. The system will be operational in 2018 and Mayor Jean Stothert says, “I’m looking forward to being one of the first riders.”
Conclusion. Who can argue with upgrading ballistic-missile defense at a time when we are threatened by a madman in North Korea? And, it is nice for Omaha to have a sleek modern rapid transit bus system on Dodge Street but should it be 50% subsidized by the federal government at a time when the U.S. is drowning in debt? There will always be enormous pressure on Congress to increase funding for popular projects.
Who is going to stand up and say no?
An Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal recently by former vice president Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz, “Congress and Obama Depleted the Military,” argues that the Trump budget request of $603 billion for Defense for the 2017 – 2018 FY is not nearly enough to build an adequate U.S. military force. Furthermore, the Cheneys argue that the Budget Control Act of 2011, which set up the ten year sequestration plan for discretionary budget items, should be repealed.
According to the Cheneys, “Providing for the defense of America is the most sacred constitutional obligation of the U.S. Congress. If Congress fails in this, no balanced budget, no health-care reform, no tax reform, no entitlement reform will matter.”
The Cheneys are correct that the defense of America is the highest priority of our federal government. But fiscal responsibility is also a high priority, especially when our public debt (on which we pay interest) now stands at 77% of GDP, the largest it has been since the end of WWII, and rising.
So the real question is: how large should our defense budget be to provide for a secure defense of our national interests? A recent article in the New York Times points out that:
Our current defense budget of $596 billion is more than the total of the next seven highest defense budgets combined.
We have 1.3 million active duty troops with 200,000 deployed in more than 170 countries.
The U.S. has 2,200 fighter jets, 193 of which are fifth generation, F-35 Lightening II aircraft.
The U.S. Navy has 275 surface ships and submarines, including 11 aircraft carriers, far more than any other single country.
Conclusion. The current U.S. military force is large and diversified. In fact there is strong evidence that it could operate more efficiently. It is more than adequate to defend our crucial national interests.
North Korea recently launched another long-range rocket as reported by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post The editorial boards of all three newspapers deplore this development but differ in suggesting how the U.S. should respond.
The NYT says that sanctions should be imposed to limit North Korea’s ability to finance warheads and missiles. Such sanctions would most acutely be felt by the Chinese companies doing business with North Korea.
The WP supports economic sanctions as well as deploying an advanced missile defense system in South Korea as quickly as possible.
The WSJ is concerned about the “rogue state” ICBM threat in general. North Korean missiles can now reach Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago. Iran recently conducted two ballistic missile launches in violation of the recent nuclear deal.
Ronald Reagan’s launch of the SDI in the 1980s helped win the cold war. The Bush Administration is responsible for the missile defenses which exist today, including long-range missile interceptors in Alaska and California and Aegis systems aboard Navy warships. The Obama Administration has cut its missile defense budget request from $9.8 billion in 2016 to $9.1 billion for 2017. Admiral Bill Gortney, Commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, says that “We’re ready 24 hours a day if he’s (Kim Jong Un) dumb enough to throw something at us.” But any miss would be catastrophic and a 100% interception rate won’t happen without engineering advances and presidential leadership.
SDI should be a very high priority within the overall military budget. Our national security depends on it!