American People Want to Slash Military Spending … But Both Parties Want to Keep Spending High
A nationwide survey released this week by the Center for Public integrity, the Program for Public Consultation and the Stimson Center finds that the American public wants deep cuts, including cuts in air power, sea power, ground forces, nuclear weapons, and missile defenses.
While politicians, insiders and experts may be divided over how much the government should spend on the nation’s defense, there’s a surprising consensus among the public about what should be done: They want to cut spending far more deeply than either the Obama administration or the Republicans.
According to the survey, in which respondents were told about the size of the budget as well as shown expert arguments for and against spending cuts, two-thirds of Republicans and nine in 10 Democrats supported making immediate cuts — a position at odds with the leaderships of both political parties.
The average total cut was around $103 billion, a substantial portion of the current $562 billion base defense budget, while the majority supported cutting it at least $83 billion. These amounts both exceed a threatened cut of $55 billion at the end of this year under so-called “sequestration” legislation passed in 2011, which Pentagon officials and lawmakers alike have claimed would be devastating.
“When Americans look at the amount of defense spending compared to spending on other programs, they see defense as the one that should take a substantial hit to reduce the deficit,” said Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation (PPC), and the lead developer of the survey. “Clearly the polarization that you are seeing on the floor of the Congress is not reflective of the American people.”
A broad disagreement with the Obama administration’s current spending approach — keeping the defense budget mostly level — was shared by 75 percent of men and 78 percent of women, all of whom instead backed immediate cuts. That view was also shared by at least 69 percent of every one of four age groups from 18 to 60 and older, although those aged 29 and below expressed much higher support, at 92 percent.
Disagreement with the Obama administration’s continued spending on the war in Afghanistan was particularly intense, with 85 percent of respondents expressing support for a statement that said in part, “it is time for the Afghan people to manage their own country and for us to bring our troops home.” A majority of respondents backed an immediate cut, on average, of $38 billion in the war’s existing $88 billion budget, or around 43 percent.
When it comes to military forces, respondents on average favored at least a 27 percent cut in spending on nuclear arms — the largest proportional cut of any in the survey. They also supported, on average, a 23 percent cut for ground forces, a 17 percent cut for air power and a 14 percent cut for missile defenses. Modest majorities also said they favored dumping some major individual weapons programs, including the costly F-35 jet fighter, a new long-range strategic bomber, and construction of a new aircraft carrier.
“Surveyed Americans cut to considerably deeper levels than policymakers are willing to support in an election season,” said Matthew Leatherman, an analyst with the Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense Project at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit research and policy analysis organization that helped develop the survey.
While Republicans generally favored smaller cuts, they overwhelmingly agreed with both independents and Democrats that current military budgets are too large. A majority of Republicans diverged only on cutting spending for special forces, missile defenses, and new ground force capabilities.
In one exercise, a larger group chose to cut the defense budget (62 percent supported this) than to cut non-defense spending (50 percent) or to raise taxes (27 percent). They then chose to cut deeply as a means to address the deficit.
But as Bloomberg reported this week, Congress has a different agenda:
The U.S. House voted to cut food stamps, federal workers’ benefits and other domestic programs to avoid scheduled reductions in defense spending.
Democrats lined up against the measure, H.R. 5652, saying it would put too much of the deficit burden on the needy. The proposal goes to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it is doomed to failure.
The automatic spending reductions set to begin in January are triggered by the so-called supercommittee’s failure last year to come up with a plan to reduce the $1.2 trillion federal budget deficit. About $55 billion would be subtracted next year from the Pentagon budget, with an equal amount coming from non- defense programs.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters today he opposes the House measure even though it sought to protect defense spending, because “it’s not balanced, it’s not fair and ultimately the Senate isn’t going to accept it either.” [If Panetta's position surprises you, remember that the top U.S. military and intelligence leaders say that debt is the main threat to our national security.]
The … plan would reduce spending by about $310 billion over a decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It would cut off food stamps to 1.8 million Americans, according to CBO, while reducing aid to millions more. About 280,000 children who receive food stamps would no longer be automatically eligible for free school lunches, CBO said.
The measure would make it easier for state governments to cut enrollment in Medicaid, the health care program for the poor, and eliminate Social Services Block Grants, which fund programs such as “Meals on Wheels.”
Other provisions would reduce funding for the administration’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, tighten medical malpractice laws and reduce Medicaid payments to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.
iWatchnews also notes:
Despite the public’s distance from Obama’s defense budget, the survey disclosed an even larger gap between majority views and proposals by House Republicans this week to add $3 billion for an extra naval destroyer, a new submarine, more missile defenses, and some weapons systems the Pentagon has proposed to cancel. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has similarly endorsed a significant rise in defense spending.
Whatever one may think about spending on military and social programs from a political or moral standpoint, one thing is clear: military spending is lousy for the economy, while programs like food stamps are much more stimulative for the economy.