Back in January, President Trump requested a $716 billion defense* budget for fiscal year 2019, amounting to a seven percent increase over the year before. Unlike proposals that seek to give Americans access to affordable health care or higher education, no one asked Trump or Congress how we’re going to pay for it. This is one of the brilliant double standards Republicans have managed to make part of Washington’s rhetorical paradigm. If “tax and spend” Democrats propose a Medicaid expansion, it’s fair to scream about deficits. But if “fiscally conservative” Republicans propose a giant tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, then, in the immortal words of Dick Cheney, “Deficits don’t matter.” That’s the rule. I don’t make ’em, I just convey ’em.
But I digress.
In true bipartisan fashion, Congress gave Trump his defense spending bill in August. Days after signing it he went to Fort Drum in upstate New York and in true Trumpian fashion, declared,
“It was not very hard. You know, I went to Congress and and I said, ‘Let’s do it. We gotta do it. We’re going to strengthen our military like never ever before.’ And that’s what we did.”
Well, what a difference four months makes because here’s Trump on Monday:
Crazy! If only someone in a position to veto the spending bill or not propose such a number in the first place had vetoed the spending bill or not proposed such a number in the first place!
This is America now. What’s sensible in August is crazy in December. Russian hackers are a 400-pound guy in New Jersey. White supremacists are “very fine people.” Up is down. Left is red. Rinse, repeat.
As for Trump’s lament about an “uncontrollable arms race,” this would imply parity in military spending among countries.
But there isn’t any. In 2018, China is spending $175 billion on defense, good for second worldwide. Meanwhile, the most recent data on Russia shows it spent $61 billion in 2017. Relatively, $716 billion is crazy, but there is no “arms race.”
The new U.S. defense spending bill, like all U.S. defense spending bills, is a giant boondoggle for military contractors. And the dumb prevailing line of thinking about the defense budget we hear so often in the public discourse basically boils down to this: If we’re spending more overall on the military this year than we did last, then it will be stronger. If we’re spending less overall, then it will be weaker, line items be damned. Hence, any attempt to rein in the out of control military budget is met with cries that doing so will make America weaker. It doesn’t matter if the money is being spent on weapons systems the military says it doesn’t want but get anyway because some congressman wanted to keep a factory open, or if we’re already spending four times as much on our military as the second biggest spender is spending on theirs. More money means more security. Less money means less security.
It’s thinking so simple even an idiot can understand, even if that thinking is wrong.
*It’s strange how we use the word “defense” despite the fact that the U.S. has seldom deployed its military for actual defensive purposes.