Military spending must be part of deficit reduction

The defense budget is so large — over $700 billion a year — it's a place where the government must look for savings

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As the Super Committee prepares to get started on finding a way to trim $1.5 trillion in federal spending over the next 10 years, it is important to focus on the federal agency that consumes the single largest percentage of federal spending, the Department of Defense.

We would hope the Super Committee would take a pragmatic look at military spending, well over $700 billion annually, and leave emotion out in the hallway.

The U.S. has been engaged in two wars for most of a decade. Given that, it is hardly a surprise that the U.S. defense budget has doubled in 10 years. It is important to make sure the soldiers and Marines fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are well equipped and well paid for their services.

To this point, Congress pretty much tosses money at the Department of Defense for every new weapon, aircraft or heavy equipment it desires. Supporting the troops with cash is seen as being patriotic.

But this nation seems to have made a collective decision to reduce spending in an effort to eventually get the growing national debt under control. The effort, in the long run, will benefit this country.

Succeeding at deficit reduction can only be accomplished by targeting the areas of the budget where the most money is spent. That means the military must be looked at as a place to trim spending.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made it clear last week it will be "very difficult" to cut more than $450 billion over the next decade from the nation's defense budget. He told reporters finding hundreds of billions of dollars in savings will involve "tough trade-offs."

The $450 billion figure was part of a compromise agreement earlier this year that requires drastic spending cuts in return for raising the U.S. borrowing limit. That agreement also called for cutting an additional $500 billion from the national security budget if Congress doesn't approve the Super Committee's cost-cutting plan.

The best way to reduce military spending is to get U.S. forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible. As we have said in this column previously, it is important to ease out of those two countries in a way that protects U.S. troops while providing enough time to allow Iraqis and Afghans to take control of their own countries.

Allowing these to linger for years and years serves little purpose but to put American lives and our economic well being at risk. We simply cannot - and should not - control those countries by force for more than a few years more.

In addition, the Pentagon needs to show a real need before spending billions on new weapons. Congress, too, needs to be prudent in its approach (as in knock off the pork-barrel boondoggles).

Panetta, to this credit, said the mandate the budget be trimmed is an opportunity to re-examine military priorities and turn the U.S. armed forces into a smaller and more agile force.

Cuts to the military budget, just like other areas of the federal government, are become necessary.

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