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Just in Time for the Discretionary Freeze, New Report Says Defense Spending Is Unsustainable

And to think, I was just mentioning Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in this post about the Obama administration’s questionable decision to exempt defense and homeland security spending from its desired budget freeze. Here’s Harrison’s just-released paper (PDF) about the unsustainability of current defense spending.

The cheat-sheet paragraph:

[D]efense spending has risen to a historically high level, in real dollars. The [fiscal year] 2010 budget requested $534 billion in discretionary and $4 billion in mandatory funding for the base defense budget and an additional $130 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This exceeds the previous peak in total defense spending of $517 billion in Fy 1986, adjusting for inflation. However, defense spending as a percent of GDP is not at a historically high level because over the past several decades the overall economy has grown faster than defense spending. This suggests that the current level of defense spending, while high, remains affordable by historical standards. But given the state of the federal budget and the ongoing cost of the wars, it is unlikely the base defense budget will be able to maintain the rate of growth experienced over the past ten years.

Now, if you read through Harrison’s paper, you’ll see it contains a key assumption. Because defense spending is so bloated, and the deficit so big and the economy so bad, then *obviously *defense spending has to drop, so it makes sense to reprioritize what’s actually in the national interest. But that assumes political will — both from Congress and from the Obama administration — that is absolutely not in evidence. And it also assumes countervailing political pressures — i.e., the desire not to be demagogued as weak on defense — that are in abundance will suddenly abate. So we’re left with … an unsustainable defense budget and spending freezes/cuts in for more politically vulnerable clients, like the poor and middle class.

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