As the budget crisis worsens, some lawmakers are looking where others dare not - at defense spending. In a letter to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle despaired at "the apparent absence of discussion about the efficacy, the extent, and cost of overseas U.S. military commitments."
The statement authored by Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Ron Paul (R-Texas), Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked commissioners to scale back America's global military commitments. The effort comes just weeks after Frank appointed his own bipartisan commission to look at ways to reduce America's bloated military budget.
"At a time when our nation is facing serious economic problems, when it is borrowing trillions of dollars from foreign nations of varying degrees of friendliness, and it must deal with the rising costs of tens of millions of retiring baby boomers, we believe meaningful deficit reduction requires that no element of existing federal spending can be excluded from consideration," wrote the congressmen in their letter to the Commission. "So while we have differing political views and party affiliations, we are united in the belief that your Commission must rethink the nature and scope of every category of federal spending."
Frank lamented that the deficit-reduction debate plays out as if there are only two options -- raising taxes or cutting social programs, like Social Security and Medicare.
Lawmakers usually shy away from cutting military spending, but Wyden, who's up for reelection, vowed to fight back against the wisdom of so many political consultants. "Look, not all defense spending helps national security," he said. "Wasteful defense spending is waste!"
Even President Obama's proposed spending freeze excludes defense spending, which Frank described as "terribly wrong" and "a very great error." It's fine to exempt national security spending, Frank said, "but don't confuse that with Pentagon spending."
Paul echoed that sentiment, emphasizing that he was for cutting military spending, not defense spending. "None of us up here want a weak defense," he said. "We want a strong national defense -- what we don't want is waste in the military budget."
The trick to cutting military spending, Frank said, is to reduce the number of overseas bases especially in wealthy regions like Western Europe. He attacked the notion that America has to be everywhere militarily and what he called "this amorphous concept that America needs to be some sort of world superhero," suggesting that commitments be scaled back to match national needs.
American military spending today makes up approximately 44 percent of worldwide defense expenditures, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and it's estimated that the U.S. currently operates 460 military installations in more than 38 countries overseas.
Frank was particularly critical of the notion that the American taxpayer has to defend the safety of Western Europe, saying "I'm not sure what we're defending them against!"
"Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella," according to reporting in the New York Times. "It's time for us to stop subsidizing them," said Frank.
Frank's deficit commission, a bipartisan group of experts in national security, will provide suggestions for how to achieve cost savings while still meeting America's legitimate security needs. Those suggestions are forthcoming in a report to be published in June.