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How did we get into such a budget mess? The disastrous Bush tax cuts for the wealthy (passed by reconciliation, thank you very much) and two never-ending wars, replete with extremely lucrative contracts to political allies like Eric Prince. Which brings us to spending freezes.

This morning, both Greenwald and Ackerman weigh in on defense spending. Their voices have been bolstered by Senator Ben Cardin's, who tells Obama to freeze military spending, too:

"Defense represents a significant part of our discretionary spending in this country. The defense establishment needs to be under fiscal discipline, as do all of our agencies." Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told reporters in the Capitol. "I don't think defense should be exempt. If there are extraordinary things that occur that require us to respond for national security, we always will be prepared to do that. But to exempt the normal military spending just because it's military, to me, is wrong."

The U.S. government spends more on defense than on all other discretionary spending combined, according to the Congressional Budget office.

The CBO estimated that for fiscal year 2009, the government will spend $584 billion on non-defense discretionary spending. Meanwhile, the U.S. will lay out $657 billion on defense spending. That would make it 4.6 percent of the gross domestic product, the highest share since 1992, when the Cold War ended.

That spending is not sustainable, as a just-released White Paper from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments explains (via Ackerman).

[D]efense spending has risen to a historically high level, in real dollars. The [fiscal year] 2010 budget requested $534 billion in discretionary and $4 billion in mandatory funding for the base defense budget and an additional $130 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This exceeds the previous peak in total defense spending of $517 billion in Fy 1986, adjusting for inflation. However, defense spending as a percent of GDP is not at a historically high level because over the past several decades the overall economy has grown faster than defense spending. This suggests that the current level of defense spending, while high, remains affordable by historical standards. But given the state of the federal budget and the ongoing cost of the wars, it is unlikely the base defense budget will be able to maintain the rate of growth experienced over the past ten years.

As an example, here's a chart from that report, just showing aircraft procurement. Ackerman:

In last year’s budget, that spending represented 5 percent of the budget, or between $38.6 billion and $40.1 billion, depending on whether you want to include funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in your calculation or not.

You see that bright green line? The one at the top? The one that’s way higher than all its colorful competitors? That represents procurement funding for combat aircraft.

Has it sunk in yet?

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say we don’t use combat aircraft in the wars we’re fighting.

You want to show fiscal discipline? Look to where the bloat and the waste really resides in our budget, and freeze discretionary defense spending, too. That doesn't mean abandoning the troops or national security. It means ending defense contractor welfare.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 01:30 PM PST.

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