Current Level of Defense Measured in What?

I got a kind card in the mail yesterday from my House Representative Todd Akin, summarizing what he and Congress accomplished last year and asking me to fill out a brief questionnaire to record my opinions on a few political topics. I think it’s great that Akin wants to solicit the opinions of his constituents, even if he is in a reliably conservative district (Missouri #2) that votes him in with like 80% support every two years.

Of course, the questions are loaded to the point of hilarity. I felt like I was taking a Republican quiz. When asking “what steps should Congress take to improve and reduce unemployment,” the available answers were:

A. Spend more taxpayer money in another “stimulus” bill….. [ ] YES     [ ] NO

B. Empower the private sector by cutting taxes & reducing government spending….. [ ] YES      [ ] NO

The word “stimulus” is in quotes, suggesting that it’s not really stimulus, so obviously the correct answer to A is NO!  And line B contains nice buzzphrases like “Empower the private sector”… obviously the answer is YES. I’m not really opposed to these opinions, but couldn’t he have just asked two simple questions like “Should Congress increase spending?” and “Should Congress cut taxes?” I guess that might make it harder to guess the, ahem, right answer.

Ah, but it gets better. Next there are three questions about “what steps should Congress take to reduce red-tape?” (Notice how all these questions are about Congress taking steps. Even the Republican paradigm about reducing government involves getting the government to do more stuff.) One of the options was… “Pass legislation requiring Congress to vote on every rule that has more than $100 million annual economic impact before it can be enforced on businesses.” Huh? I’ve never heard of this before, but I’m guessing it’s a Republican concoction to try to limit the willy-nilly regulations coming out of Obama’s executive branch. It sounds good in theory, but I also wonder if it would just add another layer of complexity to an already complex system instead of addressing the root problems. (Arguments about the uncertainty of such impact predictions? Lobbying for arbitrary inputs that will get regulations under that magic number? Giving Congress another number to fight about every year to decide if it should be increased or not? And that’s just off the top of my head….)

Then there are some questions about what steps Congress should take to reduce the deficit and what Congress should do about healthcare. Should Congress “reform the Budget Act of 1974 to make it harder for Congress to spend money?” I don’t know anything about the Budget Act of 1974, but who doesn’t want to make it harder for Congress to spend money? YES! YES! A thousand times YES! Now Akin can go back to Congress and say that 99% of his constituents want to reform a Budget Act they know nothing about! Brilliant!

But the last category on the list is the piece de resistance. DEFENSE. The Holy Grail of the Republican Party. The one thing that cannot ever be cut but must continue to be increased forever and ever, Amen.  Question #1:

Should our defense budget be cut further? ……. [ ] YES     [ ] NO

Notice the assumption that our defense budget has actually been cut. As I have written before, the latest “cuts” to the defense budget still have the budget going up by 16% over the next decade. But, hey, so what, it should be obvious that the correct Republican answer to “should we cut defense” is always NO, right? Well, just in case it’s not obvious, there is a second question:

Before the recent defense cuts, our current level of defense measured in men in uniform, planes, and ships is about 50% of where we were in 1990. Have we cut defense too much? ……. [ ] YES      [ ] NO

Are you serious? What kind of a loaded introductory sentence is this? I’ve never heard of measuring our defense level by men in uniform, planes, and ships. It must be getting pretty obvious that the federal government needs to put a little pressure on a military budget that’s almost as big as the rest of the world combined if they have to twist into a pretzel statistic like this to justify the current record spending levels. The year 1990 is a pretty convenient comparison point too, since we were fighting the Persian Gulf War. But here’s a chart from

There actually is a slight dip projected for 2013 or so (assuming it actually happens), although all future years are still higher than 2010, and expected to continue to increase beyond the chart. But compare the last blue line with the 1990 blue line and tell me how you can possibly conclude by any stretch of the imagination that our defense was at 1990 levels before the recent “cuts.” If our number of men, planes, and ships is truly that much lower than it used to be – and if that’s a bad thing at a time when we’re supposedly winding down from a war – then I’m tempted to conclude that maybe we’re just spending way too much on those men, planes, and ships.

Nah. Couldn’t be. It’s impossible for the defense budget to ever be too large.

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