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Letter to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform

As the President's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform reviews ways to address America's national debt crisis, Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA), Ron Paul (R-TX), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) have brought together a large group of representatives and senators to call for a specific solution.

In a letter sent Wednesday to members of the Commission, they call on the Commission to look closely at excessive defense spending in an effort to reduce the Federal deficit and national debt. Specifically, the group of 57 members of Congress urges "in the strongest terms that any final Commission report include among its recommendations substantial reductions in projected levels of future spending by the Department of Defense."

"It is now indisputable," said Congressman Frank, "that if we do not substantially reduce planned worldwide defense expenditures, particularly on behalf of our allies who can and should be doing more to defend themselves, that we will not be able to meaningfully reduce our budget deficit without doing significant damage to our quality of life here at home. Given our long failure as a nation to recognize this fact, and the strong political resistance to changing course, I am pleased that a significant number of my colleagues are joining me in the effort to address this issue."

The letter's signers state that given the size of the U.S. deficit and rapidly growing debt, cutting the military budget must be a part of any viable proposal. The Department of Defense currently takes up almost 56 percent of all discretionary federal spending, and it accounts for nearly 65 percent of the increase in annual discretionary spending levels since 2001. The letter also states that the group of representatives and senators strongly believes that significant cuts to defense spending are necessary and can be made in a way that will not endanger national security.

"I am pleased to join Chairman Frank and so many of our colleagues who realize that the United States cannot sustain a military budget that costs nearly as much as the rest of the world's defense budgets combined," said Congressman Paul. "I sincerely hope for the future of our country that the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform takes a thorough look at the military budget when crafting a proposal to reduce unsustainable government spending."

"Any serious effort to reduce the deficit has to be willing to examine the defense budget for wasteful spending," said Senator Wyden. "Just because something is called defense spending doesn't mean it is doing an effective job of promoting national security, in fact, I believe that the Pentagon itself would benefit from a rigorous review of its budget, as eliminating redundant programs and wasteful and unnecessary spending can be good for national security."

Earlier this year, these leaders also brought together a task force of national security experts with a diverse set of views to specify ways to reduce defense spending in the context of the new fiscal restraints. The task force's findings pointed out ways to trim U.S. defense spending by nearly $1 trillion in the next 10 years without endangering American security. The report, "Debt, Deficits and Defense: A Way Forward," was released in June 2010 by the members of the Sustainable Defense Task Force.

"Cutting military spending requires limiting the ambitions it serves. We spend too much on defense because we choose too little, confusing our ambitions with the requirements of our safety," said Benjamin Friedman, Research Fellow in Defense and Homeland Security Studies at The Cato Institute. "By shedding missions, the Pentagon could cut force structure -- reducing personnel, weapons and vehicles procured and operational costs. The resulting force would be more elite, less strained and far less expensive."

"We strongly urge the Commission to consider our recommendations for making significant cuts to defense as part of their analysis," said Carl Conetta, Co-Director of the Project on Defense Alternatives (PDA) at the Commonwealth Institute. "These savings can be realized not only through targeting waste and mismanagement at DoD, but also through a frank assessment of current U.S. military goals and strategies, which in many cases involve outdated assumptions that leave the United States spending money on commitments as well as weaponry that are no longer necessary for our national security."

National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform
1650 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Commission Members,

As the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform continues its work of reviewing and recommending an appropriate set of responses to our nation's mid- and long-term fiscal challenges, we write to urge in the strongest terms that the final Commission report include among its recommendations substantial reductions in projected levels of future spending by the Department of Defense.

Given the size of our deficit and debt problems as well as the political challenges and policy controversies involved in implementing any solutions to them, it is clear to us that cutting the military budget must be a part of any visible proposal. The Department of Defense currently takes up almost 56% of all discretionary federal spending, and accounts for nearly 65% of the increase in annual discretionary spending levels since 2001. Much of this increase, of course, is attributable to direct war costs, but nearly 37% of discretionary spending growth falls under the "base" or "peacetime" military budget. Applying the adage that is necessary to "go where the money is" requires that rigorous scrutiny be applied to military spending. We believe that such an analysis will show that substantial spending cuts can be made without threatening our national security, without cutting essential funds for fighting terrorism, and without shirking our obligations as a nation to our brave troops currently in the field, our veterans, and our military retirees.

Much of these potential savings can be realized if we are willing to make an honest examination of the cost, benefit, and rationale of the extensive U.S. military commitment overseas, which in large part remains a legacy of policy decisions made in the immediate aftermath of World War II and during the Cold War. Years after the Soviet threat has disappeared, we continue to provide European and Asian nations with military protection through our nuclear umbrella and the troops stationed in our overseas military bases. Given the relative wealth of these countries, we should examine the extent of this burden that we continue to shoulder on our own dime.

We also think that significant savings can be found if we subject similar scrutiny strategic choices that have led to the retention and continued development of Cold War-era weapons systems and initiatives such as missile defense. While the soviet Union and its allies nearly matched the West's level of military expenditure during the Cold War, no other nation today remotely approaches the 44% share of worldwide military spendings assumed by the United States. China, for instance, spends barely one-fifth as much on military power as the United States. Instead of protecting us against a clear and determined foe and enemy, Defense Department planning and strategic objectives now focus on stemming the emergence of new threats by maintaining a vast range of global commitments on all continents and oceans. We believe that such commitments need to be sealed back.

Additionally, we believe that significant savings can be realized through reforming the process by which the Pentagon engages in weapons research, development and procurement, manages its resources, and provides support services. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has speculated that waste and mismanagement accounted for at least 5% of the Pentagon budget annually, and despite a long history of calls for reform from outside the Pentagon, and actual reform incentives within it, it is clear that much more remains to be done.

We repeat that we are not urging reductions that in any way would cut resources and supplies necessary to protect American troops in the field. Similarly, while we are not opposed to an honest look at efforts at reforming the way that the Department of Defense provides health care and other services to personnel, we are opposed to cuts in services and increased fees for our veterans and military retirees.

As your commission scrutinizes the federal budget and discretionary spending, we ask that you look closely at the Department of Defense in regard to the issues we have raised, and others. We hope that the report you release this coming December will subject military spending to the same rigorous scrutiny that non-military spending will receive, and that in so doing a consensus will be reached that significant cuts are necessary and can be made in a way that will not endanger national security. We strongly believe this to be the case, and we strongly believe that any deficit reduction package must contain significant cuts to the military budget.

Sincerely,

Ron Wyden, United States Senator
Patrick J. Leahy, United States Senator
Benjamin L. Cardin, United States Senator
Bernard Sanders, United States Senator
Jeff Merkley, United States Senator
Barney Frank, Member of Congress
Ron Paul, Member of Congress
Lynn C. Woolsey, Member of Congress
George Miller, Member of Congress
John Conyers, Member of Congress
Lousie M. Slaughter, Member of Congress
Michael E. Capuano, Member of Congress
John Lewis, Member of Congress
Barbara Lee, Member of Congress
Raul M. Grijalva, Member of Congress
Linda T. Sanchez, Member of Congress
Fortney Pete Stark, Member of Congress
John W. Oliver, Member of Congress
Peter Welch, Member of Congress
John F. Tierney, Member of Congress
Peter A. DeFazio, Member of Congress
Jared Polis, Member of Congress
Edward J Markey, Member of Congress
James P. McGovern, Member of Congress
Kurt Schrader, Member of Congress
Gwen Moore, Member of Congress
Michael M. Honda, Member of Congress
Bobby L. Rush, Member of Congress
Chaka Fattah, Member of Congress
Carolyn B. Maloney, Member of Congress
Alcee L. Hastings, Member of Congress
Mike Quigley, Member of Congress
Eleanor Holmes-Norton, Member of Congress
Bob Filner, Member of Congress
Donna F. Edwards, Member of Congress
Melvin L. Watt, Member of Congress
Tammy Baldwin, Member of Congress
Albio Sires, Member of Congress
Frank Pallone Jr., Member of Congress
Wm. Lacy Clay, Member of Congress
Jose E. Serrano, Member of Congress
Bill Delahunt, Member of Congress
Maxine Waters, Member of Congress
Jerrold Nadler, Member of Congress
Steve Cohen, Member of Congress
Elijah E. Cummings, Member of Congress
David E. Price, Member of Congress
Alan Grayson, Member of Congress
Bennie G. Thompson, Member of Congress
Betty McCollum, Member of Congress
David Wu, Member of Congress
Michael F. Doyle, Member of Congress
Luis V. Guiterrez, Member of Congress
Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Member of Congress
Sam Farr, Member of Congress
Dennis Kucinich, Member of Congress
Earl Blumenauer, Member of Congress


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