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Posts Tagged ‘deficit’

Debt Delusion

The recent budget fight is simply a precursor of what must be done.  Both sides are still playing small ball, messing with discretionary spending, when the huge entitlement bomb is going to cause our demise.  While Democratis cry about “cruel” budgets, our debt will go up more this week (about $50B) than the $38B or so that Congress was able to agree to cut.  We’re using bandaids and aspirin when wholesale amputation and emergency surgery is required.  Columnist Robert Samuelson put the matter well in his column today:

We in America have created suicidal government; the threatened federal shutdown and stubborn budget deficits are but symptoms. By suicidal, I mean that government has promised more than it can realistically deliver and, as a result, repeatedly disappoints by providing less than people expect or jeopardizing what they already have. But government can’t easily correct its excesses, because Americans depend on it for so much that any effort to change the status arouses a firestorm of opposition that virtually ensures defeat. Government’s very expansion has brought it into disrepute, paralyzed politics and impeded it from acting in the national interest.

Few Americans realize the extent of their dependency. The Census Bureau reports that in 2009 almost half (46.2 percent) of the 300 million Americans received at least one federal benefit: 46.5 million, Social Security; 42.6 million, Medicare; 42.4 million, Medicaid; 36.1 million, food stamps; 3.2 million, veterans’ benefits; 12.4 million, housing subsidies.

While Paul Krugman cries that Obama is a wimp and Republicans are cruel, it is our continued, insane-level of deficit spending that is cruel.  It has real practical consequences today ($5 gas) and tomorrow (a shrinking, sclerotic, no jobs economy).  There are signs of seriousness and hope among both voters (the Tea Party) and politicians (Paul Ryan, for example),  but one wonders if the stars can align for the kind of serious courage needed to get this sorted out before we have a real Greek-style meltdown.

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The Deepest Cuts

I wrote not too long ago about how ridiculous it is Obama has essentially quadrupled deficit spending, and created an astronomically expensive new entitlement, while demanding deep cuts from the military.  This is undobutedly the fruit of his early 1980s, Nuclear Freeze, anti-military worldview.

I personally think the Pentagon could save a lot of money by scaling back America’s commitments around the globe quite radically, adjusting its retirement system, and changing its procurement process.  But the bigger solution must come from narrowing the mission:  we should retain power projection ability, but one focused on territorial defense, as opposed to defending amorphous “interests.”  With a few exceptions–sea lanes, nuclear proliferation, terrorist training camps–we can mostly ignore the globe’s parochial hotspots, which have little to do with us and the outcome of which will barely affect us.  It seems to me the US gets relatively little in the way of return from having forces in places like Germany, Guam or South Korea.  Let’s keep a few logistics bases, a decent number of carriers and prepositioned gear, and mostly let the world go to hell.

That said, we still need functional aircraft, tanks, or our great wealth will make us the subject to bullying and shakedowns by more militarily powerful countries.  It turns out our planes are getting very old (see below)

And yet we’ve largely scuttled the F-22, the F-35 strike fighter is on the chopping block, and the Marines this week lost their Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. The latter is a particularly bad cut–unless some off-the-shelf choice is quickly chosen to replace it–as the current amphibious vehicle is super-old, slow, poorly armored, and cannot realistically last another 20 or 30 years.  Of course, the EFV’s development was super-expensive, problem-plagued, and typical (I’m sad to say) of major USMC weapons-development programs, such as the costly Osprey.

 

The Legacy Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle Destroyed in Iraq

You have to know a wee bit about military gear (and how old much of it is) to know what replacements are reasonable and what are not.  You also have to have a strategic vision not to allow the Pentagon to metastasize into developing capability for fighting ten wars, simultaneously, all with gold-plated leadership, retirements, and contractors.  Obama seems to have neither the necessary knowledge, nor vision, to intelligently tackle Pentagon reform, and Gates appears to be simply following the boss’s latest 90 degree turn. Both are seeking to cut crucial programs, while continuing the role of the US as global cop.

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I would not be so offended if Obama or any other politician said:  we’ve spent too much money on too many things for too long; we must economize, and the Defense Department too must learn to be more efficient with public funds.  But Obama, instead, has said we must spend far and wide on everything from sidewalk improvements and  “green jobs” to home mortgages and banks, because government spending is needed to lift us out of an economic crisis.  But the one area that must embrace austerity and cut its budget is the Department of Defense, which is charged with fighting two wars and keeping us safe from any emerging threats

The whole thing suggests partisan spite, a holdover from Obama’s 1980s liberalism and its contempt for Reagan’s rebuilding of the military after the painful, post-Vietnam degradation of its capabilities.  This spending has proven to be a huge bargain, leading to the end of the Soviet Union, the nearly bloodless victory in the First Gulf War, and our ability today to project unmatched conventional power in defense of our nation and its interests around the globe.  Those interceptor vests, Abrams tanks, Apache helicopters, and stealth fighters weren’t cheap, but neither should be American lives. 

It may well be debatable whether the F-22 is absolutely necessary given the state of conventional threats.  But if we’re going to be spending gazillions of dollars on everything and nothing in a Pelosi-drafted Stimulus Bill, while also surging our forces in Afghanistan, would it be too much to ask that they be given the best, most life saving weapons whether improved MRAPs, body armor, rifles, and transport helicopters like the Osprey. Is it so extravagent to update our helicopters every 40 years so that pilots don’t fly unsafe aircraft older than they are! The Pentagon must do better with the money it has and have a strategic reality check on the threats ahead.  Rumsfeld, to his credit, did away with the Crusader Artillery program and encoruaged all branches to be more expeditionary.  But to cut its budget in a time of profligacy on general principle reeks of spite and Obama’s (and his socialist father’s) college kid dreams of sticking it tot he military-industrial complex.  After all, unlike midnight basketball and housing bailouts, national defense is a constitutionally mandated federal government responsibility.

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Obama has repeatedly reached for one of the lowest and most insulting rhetorical tricks in the book:  begging the question. In his inaugural address, for instance, he labeled all criticis of government spending as “cynics” who “fail to understand . . . that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”  In other words, I’m right and the only question now is the details.   He just wants “common sense” on gun control and other areas.  Any high principled reason for avoiding the big government fad of the moment  is cynicism and never accepted as a stand for high principle or constitutionalism, nor even as reasonable disagreement.

Consider his defense of the pork-laden “stimulus bill” authored by his fellow Democrats in the Congress:

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis — the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We’ve seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.

In spite of indefensible pork, a dubious theory of government spending increasingly discredited by economic historians, and a growing national debt that has more than a little to do with why we are here, Obama assumes his mandate is whatever he happens to want at the moment, regardless of how it deviates from his campaign themes.  He did not run, after all, on big deficit stimuli but instead on “middle class tax cuts” and a return to sanity on foreign policy.  In fact, he spent a lot of time criticizing Bush’s pork and fiscal irresponsibility.

One thing every elected official must understand is that his mandate is more often pretty weak; it’s not a license to do whatever he wants whenever he wants without regard to public opinion.  People will turn against policies that were never explained earlier or seem extravagant and wrong-headed.

Obama’s own sense of incorruptibility may be his political Achilles’ Heal.  Obama’s appointment of the tax cheat and former healthcare lobbyist Tom Daschle for HHS, the tax cheat Tim Geithner to the Treasury, and the occasional military lobbyist, William Lynn–it’s all just corruption with a human face, in this case the reassuring face of Obama.  “Don’t worry kids, I know what I’m doing.  I’m incorruptible, and me breaking my own promises for a ‘new tone’ and a ‘new ethical climate’ is not breaking promises.  I know when to follow the rules and when to make exceptions.”

At times like these, we should not forget that he is a South Side of Chicago politician, a man formed in a a onepartytown of ethnic spoils and big government.  Chicago is a place where no one, including the opposition, respects limited government and fiscal responsibility.  It’s winner take all.  Obama’s arrogance, his roots, and his free pass by the media are leaving him vulnerable to his tin ear for the apolitical sense by many Americans that a government spending spree during a recession may not be the best idea on earth. But, I guess all those people are just devoid of common sense and cynical.

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