‘Hard Choices’ and the Budget Cuts Left Off the Table

There is no shortage of pundits like Robert Samuelson who demand cuts to Social Security and Medicare, usually in the name of balancing the budget. These political decisions are usually labeled “hard choices” in media discussions–as if politicians who favor making people pay more for their healthcare or cutting their retirement funds are only bravely doing what needs to be done.

Rarely discussed in the corporate media is what to do about the military budget, which has grown enormously over the past decade. Part of the debt deal requires some military cuts, though there is less there than meets the eye. (Listen to Bill Hartung explain it on CounterSpin.) And nonetheless polls have shown pretty consistently that military spending is an area where the public favors rather drastic cuts.

If cutting government spending is a political necessity, then surely cutting a bloated military budget is a no-brainer, right? Not for Samuelson, who recently wrote that even modest cuts to the Pentagon budget are unwise.

But to get a sense of what could be possible, consider this from Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer:

In 2000, we spent 3.7 percent of GDP on the military. The Pentagon didn’t have to hold bake sales. We’re now spending 5.4 percent. Merely going back to 2000 would save 1.7 percent of GDP, or $255 billion. If over the next decade we spent 3.7 percent of GDP instead of 5.4 percent, we’d save $3.6 trillion. That’s close to what many of the deficit hawks are aiming for. Let the Bush tax cuts expire and bump up the top rate a few points and everyone could have free childcare and free college tuition!

Of course to do that would be un-American.

TalkingPointsMemo‘s Brian Beutler observes that Obama has basically announced that the military cuts on the table right now are as far as he’s willing to go–better to cut Medicare benefits than the military budget. And it is only a matter of time before some pundit somewhere uses this to illustrate Obama’s “bravery” in tacking “entitlements” by tacking to the center in order to impress “independent” voters.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.