POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 19, 2010
There is a conventional belief that in order to cut taxes or the federal deficit we must somehow cut "entitlements," an unpleasant word for taking care of our elderly, our sick and the unemployed.
An alternative can be found in the June 1, 2010, report of the Sustainable Defense Task Force, "Debt, Deficits, & Defense, A Way Forward," requested by Congress and available online. Noting that the U.S. defense budget is more than that of China, Russia, the European Union and the entire Middle East combined, the report lays out a number of responsible cuts to defense spending that would save up to $960 billion between 2011 and 2020 with no loss of safety to Americans.
Defense consumes about 39 cents of every federal income tax dollar we send in. The Sustainable Defense Task Force proposal would reduce that to roughly 36 cents. Congress could provide this tax savings with no cutbacks to health, education, or unemployment benefits and without jeopardizing our national safety. It could cut the average tax rate for all of us, and it would put $192 a year back in the pocket of the median-income family of four.
Thirty-six cents of every federal income tax dollar still amounts to a huge amount of money. Military spending is the single largest discretionary item in the budget. The annual cost is more than $700 billion. Every year we spend more on it than we did on Wall Street's one-time TARP bailout.
"Defense" is a misnomer, since many of these expenditures do not make the U.S. any safer and are crippling the long-term vitality of our nation. Long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. is maintaining hugely expensive Cold War weapons systems that have little or no credible reason for being.
For example, the U.S. maintains 262 military bases in Germany to defend that country against ... well, somebody. Not Russia in all likelihood, since Germany is Russia's biggest customer for oil and gas. A number of these bases cost us $240 million or more every year each.
The U.S. also maintains 13 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, and no other country on the planet has any. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, the average operating and support cost of one of these vessels is $298 million a year.
If we mothballed one carrier and eliminated one of those German bases, it would pay for the entire Honolulu rapid transit system. Hawaii residents wouldn't have to tax themselves that extra 0.5 percent excise tax, and in 10 years when the system was paid for, there would be an extra half billion a year to spend on education or health care or other basic infrastructure needs, all of which would generate jobs and improve the quality of life.
But sadly, no bill based on the Sustainable Defense Task Force report has been introduced. Instead, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is creating an illusion of cutting spending by eliminating some administrative offices in Virginia, but overall, the Obama administration actually proposes to increase defense spending.
No matter who is in Hawaii's congressional delegation come November, we need to put defense spending on the table.
Congress needs to make the Sustainable Defense Task Force report into a genuine "way forward." Turn it into a bill and pass it into law.