Leon Panetta: Public Choice Economics in Operation

Former Rep. Leon Panetta once served as head of the Office of Management and Budget.  That caused some to hope that he might lead an effort to restrain military spending as defense secretary.  To the contrary, however, he has "gone native," as they say.  Now there is no bigger cheerleader for maintaining an oversize military.

Reports National Journal:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday stepped back into the bitter debate over the nation’s debt, arguing that lawmakers should close the budget deficit through tax increases and changes to popular programs like Social Security rather than through additional cuts in Pentagon spending.

“No budget can be balanced on the back of discretionary spending alone,” he told the Senate Budget Committee. “I strongly believe that all areas of the federal budget must be put on the table – not just discretionary, but mandatory spending and revenues.”

“Revenue” in that context is code for tax increases, while “mandatory spending” is code for programs like Medicare. 

Panetta has made that argument before. Last August, during his first press conference, the Defense chief said trimming the debt would mean also taking a “look at revenues as part of that answer.” Last fall, he explicitly told a House panel to consider “increases in revenue” and entitlement cuts before taking another whack at the Pentagon budget.

Raise taxes!  Cut other budgets!  But don't touch my spending.  After all,what would the Europeans do if America wasn't defending them?  Think of the poor, helpless Japanese and South Koreans who would have to spend more if the U.S. didn't protect them.  And we couldn't spend years, even decades, bringing democracy to countries like Afghanistan.  That has worked so well!

It is time for American officials to think first of America's defense.  No more treating the defense budget as a form of foreign aid and social engineering abroad.  And once Washington starts doing less abroad, it can spend less on the military.

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