The unwritten and unspoken story of the budget showdown in Washington is the tale of both parties deliberately working to once again exempt the ever-growing Pentagon from America’s larger budget/deficit discussion.
This is the thrust of the new Republican plan to pass a one-week continuing resolution for non-defense spending and at the same time pass a full year’s status-quo Pentagon budget. Even though military spending is the single largest discretionary spending item in the budget, and even though there are blatant examples of Pentagon waste fraud and abuse, the GOP’s proposal nonetheless insists that the Pentagon must be sacrosanct.
Meanwhile, whether deliberately or inadvertently, President Obama’s tactic of citing soldier pay as the main reason to avoid a government shutdown reinforces the same embedded militarist ideology as the GOP budget proposal. It goes without saying, of course, that, delaying troop pay would be regrettable. But citing the military as the primary reason to avoid a government shutdown furthers the notion that somehow the largest discretionary budget item is the only budget item that should be considered Holy and therefore untouchable. (This is a message, by the way, that congressional Democrats have already embraced in recently offering to take yet more money from social programs and pour it into the Pentagon.)
In pursuing this course, the president is adding credence to the logic behind the GOP’s “everything but the Pentagon” proposal. If troop pay is the major reason he opposes a government shutdown, then it stands to reason he would support the GOP’s initiative to pass the status-quo bloated Pentagon budget for the rest of the year, while keeping everything else (read: social programs) on the chopping block.
The tragedy is that if the GOP’s proposal passes, an even larger and more disproportionate amount of budget cuts will be focused almost exclusively on the relatively small portion of the discretionary budget that funds social programs. This is an outcome polls show polls show most Americans strongly oppose. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the Reuters/Ipsos poll found “a majority of Americans prefer cutting defense spending to reduce the federal deficit rather than taking money” from social programs.
That’s why this move to defy the public will and exempt the Pentagon from the national deficit discussion is being done under the veneer of a larger budget showdown. Both parties know they can’t come out and overtly advocate the Pentagon exemption, so they are working to legislate it under the cover of continuing resolutions and threats of a government shutdown. Their goal is first and foremost protecting the Pentagon’s budget – a long-term goal of a bipartisan Washington establishment now wholly owned and operated by military contractors.
As I show in my new book Back to Our Future, it has been the goal since the 1980s rehabilitated hypermilitarism as a winning political frame, and sadly, it looks like both parties may have finally engineered a budget showdown that delivers the results the military-industrial complex has been waiting for.