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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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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