Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Why Not Go Off The Cliff?

There is a big part of me that hopes the ongoing  negotiations fail and we go over the fiscal cliff.

It would be draconian, sure. I'm not a fan of austerity for austerity's sake. It would hurt people who depend on benefits, and it would reverse the slow but steady economic recovery.

Part of the reason I think going off the cliff is a live option is my fear that the Obama Administration will give too much and get too little in terms of the wealthy paying more in taxes. How many cuts are worth it to get a token tax hike?

But the real reason I'd consider it: It's the only chance we'll ever get to seriously cut the military budget - $500 billion over 10 years unless the cliff is avoided.

 Andrew Cockburn of the Los Angeles Times notes:
Much of that $500 billion is earmarked for items such as the F-35 "Lightning II" Joint Strike Fighter, which currently consumes no less that 38% of the entire defense procurement budget... Even were the aircraft a miracle of combat efficiency, such staggering expense would be unpalatable. But 20 years of development has produced a fighter that is more sluggish, with a shorter range and 50% less payload, than the F-16 it is slated to replace.
The Navy determinedly fends off all budgetary threats to the 3,000-ton Littoral Combat Ship, though at $500 million each we might expect more than a lightly armed (one gun, one defensive missile launcher) vessel with an inherent tendency to veer off course at high speeds and to develop cracks and rust.
The Army, meanwhile, wants to spend $34 billion (at least) on the Ground Fighting Vehicle, a troop carrier (which) failed its tests so dramatically that testers urged it not be fielded, but the Air Force shipped it to Afghanistan anyway, and has since adamantly refused to release any details of its actual performance.
The list goes on, but the picture is clear.
I don't like a meat axe approach, but I don't see another way lawmakers will willingly cut that much, an amount I believe is appropriate.

Another reason, more in terms of schadenfruede: It would disproportionately hit the red states. The states who vote Republican and complain about taxes are the same states who benefit the most from federal largesse, mostly military. Note the heavy overlap between states that pay in more than they take out, and states that voted for the president last month.

The Montgomery Advertiser:
7 percent of Alabama’s gross domestic product comes from federal defense spending on contracts and salaries — twice the national average, according to the Pew Center on the States. Federal officials, mostly at the Pentagon, spent $10.4 billion on procurement contracts in the state in 2010 alone. Such cuts would certainly take a heavy toll on procurement contracts — and the jobs linked to them — in Alabama.
Maybe I'm a little cold, but that's politics. Dance with them that bring ya. Outside of jobs at the Rock Island Arsenal, Iowa doesn't take as much of a hit.

Cockburn concludes:
Once in a while, a politician calls the military's bluff. Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev recalled his admirals fighting to retain big surface ships because, though useless in combat, "our naval commanders thought they were beautiful and liked to show them off to foreigners."

It's unlikely that President Obama would ever express such sentiments, even if he harbors them. Nevertheless, even while the rest of us tut-tut over the perks of our high-ranking military caste, we might ask a few questions about where the really big money goes, and or whose benefit.
Maybe going over the cliff is too high a price to pay. But once we were over the cliff, we could have a serious discussion. What's more important: health care, or maintaining the highest level of military spending in the world? Social Security, or leaky ships? Faced with the fiscal reality of just how much we spend on the military, voters may finally be willing to cash in the peace dividend we were supposed to collect 20 years ago.

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