View Full Version : The War at Home

08-22-03, 06:56 AM

The War at Home

By William F. Sauerwein

Our nation is currently involved in the most serious conflict in American history. It is not the worldwide war against al Qaeda and international terrorism, nor is it the murky guerrilla war in occupied Iraq.

This war is waged every day inside the Washington Beltway, and has continued for most of our 227-year history.

It is the war between national security and domestic social programs.

Those on each side in this war believe their cause is righteous, and the most important to the nation. While during peacetime this war often seems unimportant, and even trivial, during wartime it becomes dangerous. If we do not win this war our success in the war against terrorism, and future wars, may be in jeopardy.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, we declared “victory” and began reducing our military expenditures. Initially this “peace dividend” was sold as “cutting the fat,” and reducing the “bloated bureaucracy.”

However, instead of returning this money to the taxpayers, Congress instead transferred it to domestic social programs. These programs, which already consumed 80 percent of the federal budget, soon consumed a greater amount. However, these domestic programs do not receive the close scrutiny for fraud, waste and abuse as do Pentagon projects.

When anyone demanded close scrutiny of domestic spending programs, their advocates branded them as “mean spirited.” When then-Speaker of the House Rep. Newt Gingrich suggested holding increases in domestic spending to twice the rate of inflation, domestic advocates and their allies in the news media vilified him. In a true Orwellian abuse of the English language, Ginrich’s proposed spending increases were criticized as drastic cuts because they were less than the advocates demanded.

All through the 1990s, we heard of the “roaring economic boom,” that created millions of jobs. Yet these domestic advocates nevertheless demanded more money because of the “massive poverty” and the “increased need” that somehow continued to plague us. The news media aggressively investigated Pentagon spending, but hardly anyone investigated the domestic agencies’ claims.

As a taxpayer, I totally favor reducing Pentagon fat and “bloated bureaucracies,” but why not in the rest of the federal government as well? The recently passed federal budget spends over $2 trillion, mostly on domestic social programs. Surely we can squeeze some “fat” and “bloated bureaucracy” from these programs as well.

Before 9/11, the Pentagon was engaged in a battle before Congress in attempting to repair the previous decade’s neglect. Congress was loath to increase military spending, and the Pentagon was forced to prioritize, shifting money internally. This overlooked one unalterable fact, that the U.S. military as a whole is no longer capable of meeting our global responsibilities.

Following 9/11, Congress, in a rush to be seen as solving the problem, substantially increased the defense budget. However, it takes more than passing a one-time budget to fix long-term problems.

The increased military commitments for the war against terrorism, war in Iraq, deterrence in Korea and homeland security have taxed current military resources. Our sons and daughters are risking their lives today under these severe budgetary restraints. Some reports state that these restraints that may eventually effect our troops’ paychecks. Both situations are unacceptable, especially in time of war, and our senior “leadership” must solve this problem.

The Army Times reported on July 28 (“Growing Political Heat to Increase Troop Levels”) that the defense budget conflict between the Pentagon and Congress is intensifying. Congress wants an expanded increased troop level without increasing the overall budget, while the Pentagon does not want to cut other programs. The Army believes it can “relatively easily” recruit 5,000 additional soldiers, but lacks the necessary funding.

The resulting Pentagon “compromise” is flawed and dangerous. DoD in a time of war now plans to cut more forces in an attempt to use the saved funds for increasing other units’ capabilities. Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld asserts that the Pentagon does not need more people, and cannot afford them anyway. This seems ridiculous given the high operations tempo (optempo) of our forces, and increased reserve call-ups.

For me, the logical solution is for the Congress to authorize the funding necessary for meeting the Pentagon’s priorities. We are a “superpower” with global responsibilities, and must be prepared for a variety of threats. Failure in meeting these threats, real or perceived, is not an option, as we found out on 9/11.

If achieving adequate military preparedness means either raising taxes or reducing domestic social programs, something no politician eagerly anticipates, Americans must demand that Congress meet its responsibilities and make the hard but necessary decisions. And that includes refraining from corrupting the process with pork-barrel spending.

A few years ago, a political commentator observed that if you wanted a bill passed through Congress just put “Civil Rights” in the title. No thinking politician would dare vote against a “civil rights” bill, no matter what it contained. We face the same problem today with “homeland security.” One recent “homeland security” provision provided for road improvements near a military installation, which stretched the meaning of the term, “homeland security.” Another provision funded some congressmen’s town hall meetings, which warped the meaning of the phrase beyond all recognition.

I do not dispute that domestic social programs are important, and the poor depend on them for survival. Furthermore, I understand that the 9/11 attacks severely harmed our economy, causing more reliance on government programs. Yet in many cases, the “social safety net” has become a “hammock” for many who are not poor.

We spend more money on education than at any other time in our history. Commentator Bill O’Reilly two years ago exposed that the Education Department’s accounting procedures were virtually non-existent. Based on student test scores I do not believe we are getting the most “bang for the buck.”

It is common knowledge that the Department of Agriculture has more bureaucrats than the United States has farmers. At the same time, the department pays agricultural subsidies to nationally-known news commentators and professional athletes.

While I firmly demand accountability of military spending, I also demand the same accountability in domestic spending. If you take the amount of wasted money in the Pentagon and multiply it by five, you get the total amount of wasted tax dollars. That money could either be transferred to the Pentagon, or returned to the taxpayers to reinvest in the economy.

If we cannot scrutinize these agencies during times of war, when can we? I have no doubt that once the perceived security threat subsides, Congress again will cut military funding, as it always has done.

If anything, 9/11 showed the consequences of placing national security on the “back burner.” It also demonstrated that failing to meet our national security needs can have a devastating effect on our economy.

Meeting the needs of the war against terrorism and other vital national security issues requires a nationwide priority not seen since World War II. The sooner we meet these needs, the sooner we can defeat the threat, and press on to safeguard our economic security.

William F. Sauerwein is a Contributing Editor to DefenseWatch, he can be reached at mono@gtec.com.