DAVID ROSMAN: Fiscal cliff debate should include military and social spending

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST

I have a question to help enhance my own political understanding.

As we approach the “fiscal cliff,” I understand most of the discussions as well as the pros and cons of the arguments. One position I do not understand is the seeming lack of the “less-government” movement to trim the military budget to control our national spending. Why is this issue off everyone’s radar?

Our military budget is larger ($711 billion) than the following nine highest military budgets combined ($579 billion). The U.S. military budget represents 4.1 percent of our GDP. The only country in the top 15 that exceeds that is Saudi Arabia at 10 percent of GDP. Israel only made it to number 17.

I am also fully aware that U.S. military spending represents about 15 percent of the federal budget.

Entitlements have also grown. The Congressional Budget Office reported in June, “major health care programs and Social Security (will) grow from more than 10 percent of GDP (in 2012) to almost 16 percent of GDP 25 years from now.” I concede that most of that increase is due to the Affordable Healthcare Act.

The budget office also states another major factor, that the “baby-boom generation portends a significant and sustained increase in the share of the population receiving benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and as well as long-term care services financed by Medicaid.”

This does not include other federally funded safety net programs such as the food stamp program, housing, Temporary Assistance of Needy Families(TANIF), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and as some conservatives wish to include, student loan programs. Yes, there are a lot more and that number is growing. Why?

I am not pointing fingers here, but our economy did take a major hit in 2008 and the momentum continued on the downward slide for almost two years. Yet the reality is that these safety-net programs also prevented the fiscal crisis from getting worse, saving many jobs and home ownerships.

The argument that the maintaining of military spending protects the jobs, direct and indirect, of millions of Americans is proper. However, the same argument can be said about Supplemental Security Income (SSI), federal health care and other “welfare” programs that are in the budgetary gun sights of the “pull yourself up by your boot strap” movements.

These same political movements reject the calamity that could have befallen our nation. The extensions of unemployment benefits alone kept a lot of people from filing for bankruptcy to pay basic bills.

Yet if one looks at the entire welfare system budget, it was just under $431 billion for 2012. Of the military spending, the Department of Defense’s budget alone is $708 billion — both increasing by one-third since 2008. I admit the military budget is reduced in 2013, but we will have one less war to pay for and it is immediately offset by the welfare increases.

I believe both can be cut to meet today’s budgetary and citizenry needs without digging new holes and without leaving people in the gutter. I think we can spend under 4 percent of GDP for military and less than 6 percent of GDP for public programs.

The scenarios of both budgets are out of date, relying on war instead of peace and growth instead of the natural pendulum swing of the economy.

We have to re-evaluate, revamp and revise the safety net programs to see if the money could be better spent, such as creating jobs through government spending on rebuilding and repairing our infrastructure. We must also re-evaluate our military budget to better protect our citizens through new technologies, not new bombs. (OK, the last sounded a bit too liberal, but would you expect different from me?)

Paraphrasing Rene Descartes, Congress has made “a habit of making ill-considered judgments” and has learned little from its errors. As a consequence, Congress does meet Einstein’s definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The military and welfare budgets are equal friends and foes in Congress’ avoidance of a “fiscal cliff.” Let’s treat them both as such. Put everything on the table.

Then, members of Congress really talk with each other and take down their fortresses of ideology.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Michael Williams November 28, 2012 | 9:00 a.m.

Certainly there are US military bases throughout the world I would like to see closed. Most are in countries that don't care for us anyway, although they like our money.

And I think some US soil military bases should be on the chopping block. Whiteman and Ft Leonard Wood comes to mind. I wonder if Rosman would agree?

I'm less inclined to reduce our innovation in be crass, I like the idea of reaching out to touch someone without getting tagged back. Rosman's comparison of military jobs to other types of job savers is a bit strange, too, since many of those military jobs are technologically advanced and manufacturing in nature...something we don't see much of.

What's really missing from this article is a discussion of the constitutionality of all the things our gov't is involved in. Of course, Rosman is a constitutional evolutionist via the judiciary, so perhaps he doesn't care for a discussion of such an outdated document. (OK, the last sounded a bit too [conservative], but would you expect different from me?)

(Report Comment)
David Rosman November 28, 2012 | 9:48 a.m.

Michael - thank you, as always, for your comments. For the record, I am not opposed to new and more accurate weapons to be introduced to our Armed Forces. I also understand that in any conflict, boots on the ground is a necessity.

I also agree that our military bases, here and abroad, need to be re-evaluated and some closed. If Whiteman and Ft. Wood are on the chapping block, so be it. It is just unfortunate that these are also major civilian employers in the areas.

One thing I strongly disagree with, that I am a "constitutional evolutionist via the judiciary." I am not sure where that came from, but it is not correct.

I do agree that I am a constitutional evolutionist; however, others have defined this term better than I. Senior Associate Justice Antonin Scalia said on last night's Charlie Rose Show (, it is not the judiciary that makes the laws, it is the people.

He continued by stressing that the justices need to be "originalists" and "contextualists," and recognize that the world is markedly different than it was in 1789, praising liberal justices Warren Brennan and Thurgood Marshall for their innovative discussions of the law and Constitution.

There is a difference between putting the text in context of the time it was written and today, from asking that rules set in the 18th and 19th centuries apply to the 21st without re-interpretation. I agree with the former.

So to say that I want to use the judiciary to change our laws is wrong. I want them to bring our laws forward to meet today's issues that the 40 signers of the Constitution would never have imagined.

(Report Comment)
James Krewson November 28, 2012 | 10:05 a.m.

Does David Rosman have any children serving in the military? If so, does he wish to put them in harms way by cutting the essentials that they need? Until ALL of our troops are removed from foreign soil, we should not put our children's lives in jeopardy through cuts in defense. Bring the troops home first, then we'll talk. Until then, keep your hands off the money that is keeping our children safe overseas.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote November 28, 2012 | 1:47 p.m.

The rise in entitlement spending over the next 20 years is due primarily to increasing health care costs (the amount of money per beneficiary the government must pay) and the aging population. It is not due to the recently passed ACA (which the CBO projected to decrease government outlays by 0.5% of GDP for 2020-2030). One of the main goals of the ACA was to address unsustainable entitlement growth by reducing the growth in health care costs. Whether the ACA achieves its goals by bending the curve remains to be seen, but it is erroneous to attribute the CBO's projected steep rise in entitlement costs to the ACA.

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Michael Williams November 28, 2012 | 5:26 p.m.

David: Either I am not understanding your views on the "constitutional evolutionist via the judiciary" issue, or you're not doing a good job of explaining your position. Could be either, or, or both.

Here's what I heard you

You agreed you are a constitutional evolutionist, but deny that "[you] want to use the judiciary to change our laws." Instead, you "want them to bring our laws forward to meet today's issues."


I think you disagreed before you agreed.

The judiciary has no right to change our laws, including our Constitution. It DOES have the obligation to rule whether a law follows the Constitution and THAT is its ONLY constitutional-mandated function. Only Congress can write laws and, when it comes to changing the Constitution, it (or a Constitutional Convention convened by the various States) can only initiate an Amendment that eventually must be agreed upon by the States. Our Constitution provides a means for amendment that would yield your desire for "evolution" or "bringing us up to date."

If you follow those rules for modifying the Constitution, I will support your process although I may work against your aims. If your aims prevail, I will live with and by them. But, I insist that you and others wishing to change the Constitution follow the process outlined in the document. Anything else is simply not acceptable to me. I will NOT support any judiciary "bring our laws forward to meet today's issues."

That is NOT their function.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman December 2, 2012 | 9:40 a.m.

Michael - First we need to agree that the Constitution is a living document and not static. Also that the constitutional questions of today were not considered in 1789.

The purpose of the Supreme Court is multi-fold. First as the check of the actions of the Congress and president. Second to interpret the Constitution as it concerns 21st century questions.

This second does not mean a liberal or conservative court, but the Court. This is not rewriting the Constitution, but attempting to bring the language and ideals forward. This is not writing new law, but attempting to determine how the 223 year old document concerns to newly born issues. That is the evolution of the Constitution of which I speak.

The Court's declaration of constitutionality of laws, including those approved via public vote, is not rewriting law via the judiciary. In fact, the Constitution prevents the courts from making law.

So when I say I am a constitutional evolutionist is limited to the interpretation of law. The change of those laws, the accepting of the ruling by the courts, is up to Congress.

The writers of the Constitution were astute when they created a government with checks and balances of each of the branches so that no one branch maintain control. Blaming the courts or Congress or the president alone does not meet the test of Constitutional logic. All three branches are involved in the evolution of the Constitution, not just the courts.

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