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Does Runaway Spending Threaten America’s Defenses?

Consider it a warning from the highest levels of the U.S. government. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta held a joint press event in Washington in which they cautioned that U.S. debt is jeopardizing America’s ability to ensure national security and preserve its interests abroad.

Under the Budget Control Act of 2011—the debt ceiling agreement enacted earlier this month—$350 billion in cuts to defense spending must be made over 10 years. But if Congress doesn’t reach an agreement on $1.5 trillion in deficit savings, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts would be made. Half of those would come from the military’s budget by 2013. And Panetta said yesterday that those cuts would be disastrous:

This kind of massive cut across the board, which would literally double the number of cuts that we’re confronting, that would have devastating effects on our national defense; it would have devastating effects on certainly the State Department.

Clinton agreed. “It does cast a pall over our ability to project the kind of security interests that are in America’s interests,” she said. “This is not about the Defense Department or the State Department . . . This is about the United States of America. And we need to have a responsible conversation about how we are going to prepare ourselves for the future.”

The Heritage Foundation’s Mackenzie Eaglen explains that the draconian cuts to our armed forces would result in a military ill-equipped to sustain its mission at home and around the world.

Secretary Panetta said any additional defense cuts—on top of the hundreds of billions over the past several years and hundreds of billions over the next 10 years—would result in a hollow force. The term “hollow force” describes the situation when readiness declines because the military does not have enough funding to provide trained and ready forces, support ongoing operations, and modernize simultaneously.

Like a freshly painted house with no plumbing or wiring inside, the military may appear functional, but in reality it would be too poorly trained and equipped to be reliable without incurring excessive and unnecessary risk.

The U.S. military is already woefully underfunded, and for months the Pentagon has warned that even with $400 billion in cuts—less than half of what the military could face—the United States “may have to scrap some military missions and trim troop levels.” And if Members of Congress don’t act to reform mandatory spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—which account for more than 60 percent of the entire federal budget—the ax will automatically fall on the military (or Congress will be forced to raise taxes to halt the automatic trigger.)

The Constitution clearly states that one of the primary duties of the federal government is to “provide for the common defense.” Yet today, because of the government’s unrestrained spending, national defense is falling by the wayside. Former Senator Jim Talent (R-MO) writes, “The great irony of our time is that the bigger the federal government has become, the less well it has performed its priority function of providing for the national defense.” Now, after all the stimulus spending, the bailouts, and the runaway entitlements, America is seeing the results. Congress must act now to rein in spending so that it can ensure that the government’s ability to execute its primary duty remains intact.

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