In his essay on conservatism and constitutionalism, Charles Kesler touches on a point we’ve recently discussed here:
National defense is the national government’s most urgent and fundamental priority. But as Robert Samuelson noted recently, defense spending is only a fifth of the federal budget; in 1956, during a peaceful part of the Cold War, it was 60% of the budget. Social welfare spending (counting Social Security and Medicare) has moved in the opposite direction. It was a fifth of the budget in 1956; today, it is three times that percentage, and climbing. While waging a multi-front war, the Bush Administration has done all it can to hold down defense spending and the size of the armed forces. Partly, this is the result of its faith that with high technology and transformed forces, more could be done with less. Partly, however, the administration fears being backed into a tax increase, or unpopular reductions in spending, or both.
But conservatives ought to do better than that. National defense is central to constitutionalism in a way that entitlement spending is not. Defense spending needs to grow dramatically, and if that forces a hard look at entitlements and domestic discretionary spending, all the better.
I’m actually less sure that defense spending “needs to grow dramatically” — some of the money for much needed investments in this area could be freed up by curbing excesses in the procurement process, excising pork, and reevaluating Cold War-era weapons systems and commitments — but definitely agree it should consume a much larger portion of the federal budget.