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A Deficit Commission Progressives Can Get Behind

In an outline that will surely never come across the desks of the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission, a panel led by Barney Frank and a bipartisan group of lawmakers determined a way to cut military spending by $1 trillion dollars over the next 10 years.

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, a commission of scholars from a broad ideological spectrum appointed by Frank, the House Financial Services Committee chairman, laid out options the government could take that could save as much as $960 billion between 2011 and 2020.

A report from the commission pointed to options including the elimination of programs, a reduction in weapons stockpiles and a reduction in troop sizes and deployment in order to shrink the growth.

“Leaders from the left, right and center agree on two major policy changes: The U.S. deficit must be reduced and the Pentagon budget can reverse its exponential growth while keeping Americans safe,” said task force member Paul Kawika Martin, policy and political director of Peace Action, a grassroots peace organization.

Keep in mind that this is probably a conservative estimate of the trimming of the military budget, because it doesn’t fully address the deployment of US troops in over 100 countries around the world. But it seeks to get at the largest source of discretionary spending in the budget, with over 65% going to the military. And lopping a trillion dollars off of future deficits will create a far more sustainable budgetary picture, at the cost mainly of executive salaries in the defense industry. Maybe those contractors will have to diversify their product lines and put the ingenuity into more socially useful enterprises.

This proposal, which Frank, Ron Wyden, Walter Jones (R-NC) and Ron Paul (R-TX) will deliver today in a press event, has I would say no chance of just passing Congress in its current form. But having this debate out in the open is important. At least a small sliver of official Washington doesn’t consider military spending magical spending that has no cost to the bottom line. When Marcy Wheeler confronted Michael O’Hanlon with this over the Afghanistan war at the America’s Future Now conference this week (saying that “every troop in Afghanistan is one less teacher educating our children”), O’Hanlon could only respond “I’d like to do both.” But if the costs are finite, the question of what improves our national security, trying to bring stability to a country disinterested in our presence or educating our children to compete globally, must be asked. Frank and his commission are at least asking the question.

UPDATE: More from Spencer Ackerman.

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David Dayen

David Dayen