Rep. Ryan Endorses Trimming Defense Budget

June 22, 2010 3:08 pm ET — Chris Harris

Earlier today, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) delivered a detailed budget speech at Washington's Union Station.  Hoyer made news for insisting that balancing the budget would require difficult decisions on taxes and spending in every area of the federal budget, including defense.

HOYER: Our defense leaders, including Secretary Gates, have repeatedly pointed out that paying for programs we don't need only makes our country weaker in the long run. Our defense spending cannot be above careful scrutiny and analysis of alternatives.

In an important speech last month, Secretary Gates drew from the legacy of President Eisenhower, who held that 'the United States...could only be as militarily strong as it was economically dynamic and fiscally sound.' He added: 'the proverbial wall has been brought to our back'; as a result, all the parts of our defense establishment must 'take a hard, unsparing look at how they operate.' Any conversation about the deficit that leaves out defense spending is seriously flawed before it begins.

Hoyer today gained an unlikely ally in Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).  Appearing on the Scott Thompson radio show, Ryan spoke about the need to cut unnecessary defense spending

HOST: What about on the military side of things as well, do we not have to cut back on military spending as well?

RYAN: Yeah, I think within it you have to prioritize. Now obviously, we've got troops over in Afghanistan and they need everything, every piece of equipment they need. But there are lots of areas, I just had a hearing on this, there are lots of areas for waste to get out of it. Like, the procurement budget is completely out of control.  The Pentagon's budget itself is not working right, so there are billions of dollars of waste you can get out of the Pentagon, lots of procurement waste.  We're buying some weapons systems I would argue you don't need anymore. 

You know the current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, he's going a pretty good job of identifying obsolete weapons systems that are costing tens of billions of dollars that aren't needed.  So, yes, there is waste in the Pentagon.

Unfortunately, modernizing defense spending has proven politically perilous for many reasons. 

First, politicians are uneasy about being painted as weak on national security in their reelection campaigns.  For some unknown reason, a politician's defense gravitas is often judged on their willingness to spend taxpayer money on unnecessary programs and outdated weapons.

Second, defense spending supports jobs across the entire country.  Cutting an unnecessary program or weapons system will often result in job losses.  Defense contractors have cleverly spread their operations and suppliers out over many states and districts, ensuring those areas' elected officials fight to keep items in the defense appropriations bills. For instance, Boeing's NewGen tanker is gaining political support because "will support approximately 50,000 total U.S. jobs with Boeing and more than 800 suppliers in more than 40 states."

Bipartisan political alliances have proven the most effective means of discontinuing wasteful and unnecessary defense programs. For example, thanks to a political partnership between President Obama, Secretary Gates, and Sen. McCain, the unnecessary F-22 fighter jet was discontinued last year.

Hopefully, Reps. Hoyer and Ryan can persuade colleagues on both sides of the aisle to modernize the defense budget in order to ensure our nation is equipped to handle the national security challenges of the 21st century.