Defense Spending: What Would Reagan Do?

In his State of the Union address to Congress, President Obama acknowledged the problems of massive deficit spending and mounting debt and offered a general plan that he said would restore fiscal health. It includes cuts to the defense budget. With two ongoing wars, numerous asymmetrical threats to our security, and the depleted state of our military, it’s appropriate for Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the new Congress to ask if this is prudent.

In yesterday’s Washington Times, Heritage Vice President Kim Holmes considers what Ronald Reagan would do about this fiscal crisis. No doubt he would have wanted the Department of Defense to operate efficiently and without wasting taxpayers’ money. But nothing, Holmes says, suggests that Reagan “would have mortgaged America’s future by slowing military modernization or reducing the size of the armed forces exclusively to save money.” On the contrary, Reagan told his military planners that defense was not a budget issue and they could spend what they need to assure that we won whatever wars we were in.
Today, the U.S. military is worn out from 10 years of constant conflict and in great need of modernization. Cutting the defense budget would only exacerbate these problems.

This doesn’t mean we can’t find any waste and inefficiencies in the Pentagon budget. In fact, Heritage analysts have identified a great deal of waste and duplication that could be eliminated, with the funds plowed back into the defense budget for modernization.

The dangers posed by deficit spending and an exorbitant national debt cannot be overstated. But we simply can’t ignore the threats we face that demand a world-class military. As Holmes points out, we’ve been here before, and we’ve turned things around. We can learn from Ronald Reagan, who “let the threats, not the bottom line, determine defense spending.”



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