Senator Pete Domenici co-chaired the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force. Before retiring in 2009, he served for thirty-six years as Senator from New Mexico, including periods as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee.
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes that “the single-biggest threat to our national security is our debt.” Our Bipartisan Policy Center Debt Reduction Task Force, which I co-chaired with former White House Budget Director and Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Alice Rivlin, operated on the basis of Admiral Mullen’s conclusion, and it underpinned our Task Force’s report, Restoring America’s Future. Controlling our nation’s debt must be a top priority.
During the course of our Task Force’s work, we confronted the question of whether the military must sacrifice also. We understand that making cuts in this area is hard, but our fiscal circumstances require us to restrain defense spending growth and demand more efficiency from our military.
We have the best fighting force in the world, and our soldiers and Marines are the world’s most high-tech and highly-trained. Still, our Task Force understood that everything must be on the table if we truly want to tackle our nation’s debt and deficit problems. Today, the taxpayer spends roughly $700 billion a year on defense. That is one-fifth of the federal budget and 56 percent of discretionary spending.
Our Task Force has proposed saving $1.1 trillion by freezing the national security budget at fiscal year 2011 levels and holding it at that level from 2012-2017, and then allowing it to increase proportionally to our economy. This strategy would make the country more secure by concentrating the military’s efforts on missions that are essential for our national security. The American taxpayers are right to expect this from their government and the Defense Department.
Ultimately, it would be up to the Pentagon to identify which items to freeze or cut in order to meet this savings target. This task will not be easy. As an acknowledgment of that, the Task Force provided a set of illustrations on how the savings could be achieved. One option is letting our allies contribute more to their own security and bringing some of our forces home from Europe and Asia. Another is by cutting programs that provide capabilities that are excessive for their missions. The Army’s Medium Extended Air Defense System, which duplicates the Patriot theater missile defense platform, is one example.
Defense spending is only one of many costs that must be reduced in order to control our debt. Equal discipline must be applied to Social Security, to Medicare and Medicaid, to domestic discretionary spending, and to tax expenditures. We owe this effort to future generations, and, as Admiral Mullen pointed out, we owe it to ourselves because we depend in large part on a prosperous economy to remain safe.