For the first time, President Clinton has used the line-item veto to reject specific items from an appropriations bill. His veto of 38 spending projects worth $287 million in the military construction appropriation should be commended for reducing unneeded pork in the defense budget. Yet, such pruning only scratches the surface of what needs to be cut from that budget.
First of all, cutting the 38 projects represents only 26 percent of the 145 projects added by Congress, but never requested by the president. Even if that limited definition of pork is used, the President should also veto the almost $4 billion added to Clintons request by Congress in the $248 billion defense appropriations bill. Now were beginning to talk about real money.
The $4 billion included purchases of three extra F-16 fighters, eight extra C-130J military transport planes, one extra DDG-51 destroyer, and two V-22 Osprey tiltrotor transport aircraft. The F-16s are produced in Texas, home of House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Majority Whip Tom Delay. The C-130Js are produced in Georgia, home of House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The extra DDG-51 is produced in Mississippi, home of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
But the limited definition of pork wont do. What about pork in the presidents defense budget request that was inserted by the executive branch before it ever got to Congress? Now were talking big money.
Some seem to believe that if an item is in the Presidents yearly budget request it is not pork, but many unneeded weapons are usually found there. The taxpayer should not worry about buying an extra DDG-51 or V-22 this year, but instead should worry about why they are being produced at all. The DDG-51 was originally designed to provide air defense for aircraft carrier battle groups during the Cold War against a severe threat from Soviet planes. Those expensive ships are ill-suited to post-Cold War missions, but are still being produced even when a surplus of ships is forcing the Navy to retire other perfectly good vessels before their useful lives are over. The V-22 is an expensive aircraft that is designed to deliver Marines from their ships to shore during an amphibious assault. The Bush administration attempted to cancel the plane, but the Clinton administration and Congress have embraced it. Its mission could be performed by a helicopter that is half as expensive. Canceling production of the remaining DDG-51s and V-22s would save about $60 billion and $80 billion, respectively, in future development, procurement, and operating costs.
Some weapons still being developed are equally unnecessary. Despite the much less severe threat environment in the post-Cold War world, the armed services are planning three new tactical aircraft programs, two of which are in development. The F-22, a high performance aircraft designed during the Cold War to combat the fighters of the Soviet Union, no longer has a sophisticated air threat to counter. Even if the F-22 development program is cancelled, the U.S. Air Force will still dominate future air-to-air combat.
The second tactical aircraft in development is the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), a future replacement for less sophisticated Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft. To obviate the need for another costly aircraft development program, the F-18E/F, the third new tactical aircraft (now being produced), could instead eventually replace Air Force and Navy aircraft. In a post-Cold War world, the Navy can provide air support to Marine Corps ground forces, eliminating the need for Marines to buy a new aircraft. Canceling the F-22 and JSF programs would save about $70 billion and $200 billion, respectively, in future development, procurement, and operating costs.
Isnt it time that we cut these unneeded big ticket items from the defense budget? Defense hawks decry that defense spending has fallen to a little more than three percent of U.S. gross domestic product. But this figure represents only how much the economys productive capacity is used up by defense spending. For a better measure of the magnitude of defense spending, the absolute level of the defense budget should be compared with the threat environment. The amount now being spent on defense is roughly what was spent in the late 1970s during the Cold War. This spending averages about $1,000 per year for every American.
Yet, in the post-Cold War world, the threat environment is dramatically less severe. Hawks will say that the world is still a dangerous place. But there has always been some danger in the world and the eclipse of the Soviet Union removed the only credible threat to the vital interests of the United States. Furthermore, no other nation spends even close to what the United States does on defense. The United States spends more than all of its allies--some of whom are the next most potent military powers in the world--combined. At most, the Russians and Chinese each spend $70 billion to $80 billion per year, but the total could be much less. Most of that money goes to holding creaking, bloated militaries together rather than on the development and production of new weapons. Moreover, combined, the most unfriendly nations--Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, and North Korea--spend only a paltry $15 billion per year. Such bone crushing superiority should allow the United States to cut some of the overkill from its defense budget.