Too Tough to Cut?
By Staff News & Analysis - January 27, 2011

Republican Party unity cracks over raising $14.3 trillion debt ceiling … Conservative Republicans in the House are upping the pressure on their party leaders to take a firm stand against raising the federal debt ceiling. The Republican Study Committee (RSC) introduced legislation on Wednesday that it says would allow the Treasury Department to avoid a default on U.S. debt without expanding the borrowing limit. – The Hill

Dominant Social Theme: National security is worth every penny,

Free-Market Analysis: The arguments are finally joined, and we shall see if American democracy is actually able to effectuate anything other than more spending and higher indebtedness. The arguments go farther than the debt ceiling of course and include military spending as well. US indebtedness is said to be in the area of US$200 trillion if one includes a full gamut of obligations. States are facing bankruptcy as well (see other article this issue).

The brinksmanship is already in play, with both Democrats and Republicans jockeying for sound bites and generally threatening each other. It is said that a vote against raising the debt ceiling will result in economic ruin and America's obligations will cease to be met forever and ever. Republicans reply that there are plenty of ways for Treasury to maneuver without raising the debt ceiling.

Republicans want the Democrats to agree to firm spending cuts – to help balance the budget – before voting on raising the ceiling. Democrats are willing to talk but don't want to hold hostage the economic security of the nation, or so they argue. Here's some more from the article:

The bill is the latest indication that some Republicans are digging in their heels on the debt vote despite stern warnings from the Obama administration that failing to raise the ceiling would be disastrous for the country. It also signals a widening rift with GOP leaders who have suggested Republicans will ultimately have no choice but to approve the debt increase. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned lawmakers in a Jan. 6 letter of "catastrophic economic consequences" if Congress fails to raise the current $14.3 trillion debt limit, which the government is on pace to hit sometime this spring. But RSC Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) said Geithner's warning is nothing more than "a pitiful scare tactic."

The military budget is another area that Republicans are going to have to deal with; here the Republican party is divided yet again. Out of about a US$3 trillion federal budget, military spending accounts for perhaps US$700 to US$1 trillion – including overseas military bases, veterans benefits and the prosecution of America serial foreign wars. Cutting the military ought to be a reasonable-enough exercise, but institutional resistance is strong.

The New York Times recently carried an analysis entitled, "Republicans Split Over Plans to Cut Defense Budget" and observed that Republican gate-keepers in the House of Representatives were not apt to be overly enthusiastic cutters. "I will not support any measures that stress our forces," Howard P. McKeon, the Armed Services Committee chairman is quoted as saying. "I cannot say it strongly enough: I will not support any measures that stress our forces and jeopardize the lives of our men and women in uniform."

Some cuts have been announced already though. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has already indicated that the Pentagon stands ready to cut spending by $78 billion over five years. But apparently, this would only slow the growth in the Pentagon budget, which would continue to expand until 2015. Tea Party-backed members of the House are not proving especially eager to cut military spending either. According to the Times, even new members are protective of various military projects that are ongoing in their own districts.

The war in Afghanistan ought to be a place where savings might occur, especially if operations are scaled back. But just yesterday Reuters reported the U.S. risks wasting $12 billion in Afghan army aid "if it does not come up with adequate plans for building and maintaining facilities for Afghanistan's growing security forces."

A new audit released on Wednesday by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, or SIGAR, reported on the potential waste. "U.S. officials working to build up local police and soldiers, a key task in ensuring Afghanistan does not succumb to the Taliban when foreign forces withdraw, had failed to provide long-term construction plans for some 900 local security facilities."

Top Pentagon brass have made the case for significant progress in Afghanistan of late, indicating that the Taliban has been chased out of many regions where it once held sway. Additionally, training of the Afghan army and police force is ongoing, with the army beginning to take the lead in certain operations. But the larger issue remains: Without being able to pursue the Taliban into Pakistan, there is no way the war can be fully prosecuted. So far, despite enormous pressure, Pakistan has not made a commitment to fight the Taliban on its own soil.

Cuts of up to US$2.5 trillion have been suggested by the Republicans, but these have not included much in the way of military spending, certainly not when it comes to the war effort. In the Senate, Kentucky legislator Rand Paul has just proposed US$500 billion of cuts that include Pentagon spending. But it is difficult to see how practical attempts at reducing such spending will be, given an open-ended commitment to the Afghan theatre.

The Afghan war is obviously important to the Anglo-American power elite, which had hoped finally to pacify and Westernize the Pashtun tribes that occupy much of Afghanistan. The pacification is an important part of the Anglosphere's effort to create more globalized governance. In fact, the ability to continue the war in the face of growing public opposition should provide clear evidence as to how power-elite priorities will fare in an era of scant resources.

After Thoughts

The truth-telling of the Internet is taking its toll on the viability of the war effort; and scaling back war-spending would deal a considerable blow to Anglosphere ambitions in the region. The spending debate itself, and its outcome, will provide insights into how resources are to be allocated in an era of austerity. It would also shed light on the elite's continued clout (or lack thereof) in the face of growing public opposition and fiscal restraints.

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