In her weekly press conference today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was fairly adamant – a proposed spending freeze should apply to defense, not merely non-security discretionary spending, as the President seeks. “I don’t think we have to protect military contractors. I do not think the entire military budget has to be exempted,” Pelosi said.
“We want them to have everything they need,” Pelosi said of military forces abroad and their families. “But we do not support an entitlement program for overruns in defense contracting,” she quickly added, noting millions could be saved if lawmakers ensured Defense contracts did not overshoot spending targets.
Defense contracting waste really does not flow to other areas of the economy, and a “freeze” where discretionary spending can rise as defense spending falls would actually create more jobs and improve the economic outlook. We really cannot afford a military-based stimulus.
Pelosi has some powerful support for her criticism of the exemption of the military budget – military analysts who face the bloat in the contracting system every day.
Steve Kosiak has spent much of his career as a defense analyst frustrated by military bloat. In early 2003, he found it was “impossible to say precisely” how much of the Bush administration’s military buildup was actually attributable to the post-9/11 emergency and how much was pre-existing defense pork. A 2005 paper he authored for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a leading Washington defense think tank, warned that rising defense costs could add “some $900 billion to projected deficits.” And in December 2008, he devoted almost 100 pages to carefully itemizing the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — $970 billion as of then, he found — and placing them in a broader social, economic and budgetary context.
The Obama administration is deeply familiar with Kosiak’s work. A year ago, the White House tapped him to oversee defense spending for the Office of Management and Budget. And that makes President Obama’s decision to exempt the hundreds of billions spent annually on defense and homeland security from a proposed overall freeze in discretionary spending — a policy he formally unveiled in his State of the Union address Wednesday night — particularly difficult for defense analysts to understand.
Leading defense wonks, particularly those on the left, have harsh words for the exemption. “Ridiculous,” said Laicie Olson of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “Completely inappropriate,” said Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress. “A political decision,” said Charles Knight of the Project on Defense Alternatives.
Korb elaborated on this in a guest post for Think Progress.
Clearly, Congress is not swallowing Obama’s call for a freeze without raising objections. However, he did make an explicit veto threat in last night’s speech – saying that he would send back any budget that did not meet his guidelines. More light will be shed on this when the White House’s budget is actually released early next week.