Getting Serious About the Deficit

Death Star battle from Star Wars
If there is a rogue missile aimed at our country, we have 33 minutes to figure out what we're going to do. We are sitting with the only technology in the world that works and it's laser technology. We need 1,000 laser systems put in the sky and we need it right now. That is [of] paramount importance.
-John Raese, West Virginia Republican candidate for the US Senate

So much for fiscal sanity from the Republican Party. Raese's -- oh, let's be generous and call it a "plan" -- would cost the taxpayers $20 billion. At least, that's what he says it would cost; it's clearly a figure from the Republican Ministry of Made-Up Numbers. Who knows what it would really cost?

Would it work? Well, no. See, if it worked we'd be doing it now. Our last president was a big fan of crazy stuff like this, after all. But, according to even missile defense advocates, it "could take two decades to develop." What Raese calls "the only technology that works" doesn't actually work -- not in the real world, anyway. So we're talking about spending a made-up amount of money on nonexistent technology, to counter a threat that doesn't actually exist -- Iran doesn't actually have nukes and North Korea struggles to even get a missile off the pad. And why 1,000 of these orbital deathrays? There's another made-up number for you.

Meanwhile, more than fifty congress members are calling for reducing military spending in order to reduce the deficit. Borrowing another $20 billion to throw at a fantasy defense system would be contraindicated.

[Christian Science Monitor:]

With a federal deficit of nearly $1.3 trillion, $13.6 trillion in federal debt, and a congressional budget process in shambles, 56 Democrats and Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas on Wednesday called on an independent commission to look for "substantial reductions" in one particular area -- the national defense budget.

In another year, calls for defense cuts on the eve of a national election would play into a toxic electoral narrative for Democrats -- that is, that they are soft on defense and national security.

But with many Republicans, too, facing a "tea party" rebellion on their right, the political calculus around even big defense cuts is shifting. Libertarian and tea-party groups are calling for a major downsizing of the federal government, and Democrats want to be sure that is not accomplished entirely on the back of social programs.

The defense budget accounts for 56% of all discretionary spending and 46% of all military spending in the world -- we spend more than twice as much on our military than the next ten top spenders combined and seven times as much as the number two big military spender, China. Surely, we can whittle that down to somewhat more sane figures. Or not. Republicans have put national defense as a central priority in their "Pledge to America" and this doesn't bode well for fiscal sanity on that front.

"By highlighting national security as one of the party's central tenets," says Alex Altman in Time, "the GOP indicated an unwillingness to pare back defense spending."

So how serious are Republicans about reducing the deficit? About as serious as John Raese is about missile defense.


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