John McCain and friends will tour to stop defense spending cuts (photo: jdlasica)

The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the US Senate, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have planned a touring company production, assisted by their newest understudy, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (somewhere Joe Lieberman is sobbing), which will go around the country and warn about the dangers of defense cuts. This could end up gaining some traction, and represents an attempt to turn the deficit/jobs debate onto Republican-friendly turf. Even in that Wall Street Journal article today on the dangers of government cutbacks and anti-stimulus, they put a focus on military cuts. That’s the goal of the McCain/Graham/Ayotte road show, to highlight the defense cuts in the trigger as a means to delay or cancel them.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday that the approaching automatic defense spending cuts would cause significant job losses and undermine national security.

“It’s a very serious situation. Congress should sit down, Republicans and Democrats, and work this out, but we also need the president’s leadership to call us together and avoid these cuts, again, that Secretary [Leon] Panetta said would be ‘devastating’ to our national defense,” said McCain on CNN’s “Starting Point.” […]

Ayotte argued that the looming cuts to defense spending are “disproportionate” to total federal spending.

“We’ve already cut nearly a half a trillion dollars from the Department of the Defense, so we’re not saying defense can’t take some savings, but this is disproportionate. It’s 19 percent of federal spending is taking 15 percent of cuts,” Ayotte said.

The only way you can get to a calculation of cutting half a trillion dollars from defense is if you factor in the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So yes, ending wars does tend to depress the spending. Your point is…?

As for the idea that defense cuts will cost jobs, contractors have ridden this kernel of truth to dominance for decades. The truth is a bit less certain. Credible studies have shown that defense spending creates fewer jobs relative to other forms of spending. So a sure way to depress the economy is to substitute cuts to more productive spending priorities instead of the defense cuts. McCain, Graham and Ayotte are not talking about canceling cuts altogether, just focusing on other areas of the federal budget. But if you’re conceding the cuts, the smartest and most efficient way to do that from the standpoint of the economy is to cut the bloated military budget, especially those areas where contractors spirit away all the profits into their corporate Treasuries.

Keep in mind that allowing the entire defense sequester to go into effect means that military spending will equal its level from 2006, and would still be almost as much as the entire world spends on their militaries combined. The cuts proposed equal the $1 trillion in cuts that Ron Paul and Barney Frank found in a blue-ribbon study could be done safely with minimal cost to the economy and none to national security. With the economy being what it is, I would cancel the entire sequester. But if you’re committed to cuts, the defense budget is a great place to start. Don’t let Brother McCain and Graham’s Traveling Salvation Show tell you any different.

The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the US Senate, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have planned a touring company production, assisted by their newest understudy, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (somewhere Joe Lieberman is sobbing), which will go around the country and warn about the dangers of defense cuts. This could end up gaining some traction, and represents an attempt to turn the deficit/jobs debate onto Republican-friendly turf. Even in that Wall Street Journal article today on the dangers of government cutbacks and anti-stimulus, they put a focus on military cuts. That’s the goal of the McCain/Graham/Ayotte road show, to highlight the defense cuts in the trigger as a means to delay or cancel them.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday that the approaching automatic defense spending cuts would cause significant job losses and undermine national security.

“It’s a very serious situation. Congress should sit down, Republicans and Democrats, and work this out, but we also need the president’s leadership to call us together and avoid these cuts, again, that Secretary [Leon] Panetta said would be ‘devastating’ to our national defense,” said McCain on CNN’s “Starting Point.” […]

Ayotte argued that the looming cuts to defense spending are “disproportionate” to total federal spending.

“We’ve already cut nearly a half a trillion dollars from the Department of the Defense, so we’re not saying defense can’t take some savings, but this is disproportionate. It’s 19 percent of federal spending is taking 15 percent of cuts,” Ayotte said.

The only way you can get to a calculation of cutting half a trillion dollars from defense is if you factor in the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So yes, ending wars does tend to depress the spending. Your point is…?

As for the idea that defense cuts will cost jobs, contractors have ridden this kernel of truth to dominance for decades. The truth is a bit less certain. Credible studies have shown that defense spending creates fewer jobs relative to other forms of spending. So a sure way to depress the economy is to substitute cuts to more productive spending priorities instead of the defense cuts. McCain, Graham and Ayotte are not talking about canceling cuts altogether, just focusing on other areas of the federal budget. But if you’re conceding the cuts, the smartest and most efficient way to do that from the standpoint of the economy is to cut the bloated military budget, especially those areas where contractors spirit away all the profits into their corporate Treasuries.

Keep in mind that allowing the entire defense sequester to go into effect means that military spending will equal its level from 2006, and would still be almost as much as the entire world spends on their militaries combined. The cuts proposed equal the $1 trillion in cuts that Ron Paul and Barney Frank found in a blue-ribbon study could be done safely with minimal cost to the economy and none to national security. With the economy being what it is, I would cancel the entire sequester. But if you’re committed to cuts, the defense budget is a great place to start. Don’t let Brother McCain and Graham’s Traveling Salvation Show tell you any different.

David Dayen

David Dayen