Deficit Reduction, Meet the War Budget

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The agenda in Washington has shifted to a single topic: the deficit, the deficit, and the deficit. Okay, also the national debt. With the recent 2011 budget deal and the upcoming fights over the 2012 budget and raising the debt ceiling, the national political discourse has become stuck in this muck, with politics and demagoguery transcending reasonable debate about policy and reality. The grand opening of GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s extreme budget plan was evidence that Washington has gone gaga over context, without focusing on the true substance. And as the Republicans and President Obama compete for cred as spending-cutters, there is a big matter they have yet to truly take on: military spending. All the slashing that they achieved this past week—to much mutual congratulation—will easily be wiped away by the phony bookkeeping of America’s wars. As Matthew Leatherman, an analyst for the Stimson Center’s Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense program, explains,

The administration plans war spending one year into the future and then defaults to an agnostic “placeholder” figure for the following four years. Using that placeholder in next year’s budget request gives the impression that war spending will drop from $118 billion in 2012 to $50 billion annually in 2013.

It will not. Contrary to official policy, huge federal debt is hidden in this bookkeeping sleight of hand…

[A] $50 billion target for war costs in 2013 would be a long stretch. Congress and the administration should foresee costs in excess of the Pentagon’s placeholder and must be prepared to manage the situation, ideally by jettisoning the entire idea of a separate war budget.

So projected deficits are likely, in reality, to be much greater, once the true war costs are figured. This is just another indication that unless Congress and the White House get serious about reducing Pentagon spending, their attempts at reducing deficits and the national debt—for all the noise—will not be serious.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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