A Further Perspective

The Insanity of Washington Spending

Can the Marines lead the way back?

By 8.30.10

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When even a centrist Democrat such as Mort Zuckerman calls the Obama administration "The Most Fiscally Irresponsible Government in U.S. History," you know the nation is in peril.

They just don't seem to get it in Washington.

Fortunately, the U.S. Marines may, once again, be leading the way back to sanity.

I love the Marines, their expeditionary culture, their sound views on unconventional warfare, their bravery, and their Toys for Tots program. (Donations accepted here.) I visit the Iwo Jima Memorial and still get goose bumps.

But do the Marines really need to spend $12 billion on upgrading an amphibious Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) when, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Marines have not had to undertake a major landing since the Korean War?

Following the prudent and wise leadership of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on budgetary matters, retiring Marine Corps Commandant James Conway, generally considered an advocate for the EFV, recently announced a review of the affordability of purchasing 573 of the vehicles from General Dynamics. The Marines have already spent $2.8 billion on this project, relying on a "requirements document" that is 20 years old, according to Dakota Wood, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

True, the EFV is a drop in that monstrous bucket which is the federal budget; and defense spending, as a percentage of GDP is low in historic terms. Nevertheless, Secretary Gates, in commencing a review of the entire budget of the Department of Defense, and Commandant Conway should be applauded for taking the lead in light of the country's current budget crisis. After all, our military strength is predicated on our economic strength, not the other way around. And the level of spending, deficits, and national debt represent a mortal threat to our strength in both areas. Now we need to see similar movement at HHS, HUD, Commerce, and, most notably, the Department of Agriculture. The more the merrier.

"If ever there was a time when 'we can't afford it' actually means something, this is that time," says syndicated columnist Cal Thomas.

"Our massive debt has produced an unease that America may be at greater risk from economic collapse than from terrorists," warns Thomas. "Excessive debt is terror by other means."

Exhibit A in Thomas's case is a recent report by the indispensable Brian Riedl, an astute budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Charles de Gaulle may have said that the graveyards are full of indispensable men, but we should all pray for long life for Riedl who is always instructive on the mysteries and outrages of the federal budget process.

Basically, Riedl challenges the already disturbing budget projections of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) because they are based on unrealistic assumptions foisted on it by Congress. For instance, CBO must assume that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, and other temporary tax cuts will expire; the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) will not be adjusted, annually, for inflation; and non-war discretionary spending will grow no faster than inflation through 2020.

Riedl, on the other hand, assumes that Congress will extend certain tax cuts and the AMT will be annually adjusted for inflation as it always has. Moreover, the Medicare "doc fix" will be enacted annually, thereby preventing a cut in physicians' payments.

Using these assumptions, "the annual budget deficit never drops below $1 trillion," writes Riedl. "Rather, it ends at $1.3 trillion in 2010, drops to $1.0 trillion by 2014, and rises back to $1.9 trillion by 2020."

Thus, the national debt held by the public is set to surpass 100 percent of GDP by 2020, and half of all income tax revenues will go toward paying interest on a $23 trillion national debt.

"These spending and deficit trends are completely unsustainable," opines Riedl.

The last word goes to Cal Thomas who asks: "How many other Republicans, besides Paul Ryan and too few of his colleagues, will tell us what we need to hear?"

"For the first time in a very long time, the public may be ready for some strong medicine." 

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.