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Budget Bullets: Defense

Smart Defense Cuts Can Reduce the Deficit While Preserving National Security

SOURCE: AP/Rafiq Maqbool

We can save more than $350 billion from the defense budget by normalizing troop levels and cutting unneeded weapons

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While we must always adequately fund the military and honor our servicemen and women, Congress can save up to $1.4 trillion over the next 12 years by eliminating overbudget and unnecessary defense programs, revamping military health care, and consolidating and capping spending across the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State. None of these actions will compromise national security.

We can save more than $350 billion through 2015 by normalizing troop levels and cutting unneeded weapons (see chart below)

  • We must cut spending on unproven, overbudget, or strategically unnecessary weapons like the V-22 Osprey or ineffective missile defense programs.
    $270 billion in savings through 2015
  • We should trim ground forces to pre-9/11 levels and reduce civilian defense personnel as conditions warrant, and reform the military pay system as recommended by the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation.
    $53 billion in savings through 2015
  • We should reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal from nearly 2,000 to less than 500 deployed long-range nukes, as recommended by strategists at the Air War College.
    $28 billion in savings through 2015

Nonwounded military retirees who are young enough to work and can afford to participate in their health insurance costs should do so—the alternative is unsustainable

  • Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates says military health care costs “are eating the Department of Defense alive.”
  • We should gradually increase insurance fees for military retirees who are younger than the traditional retirement age, and add a small annual fee for Tricare for Life members.
    $15 billion in savings through 2015
  • We should encourage responsible use of Tricare for Life by asking enrollees to cover their first $500 in out-of-pocket Medicare expenses.
    $12 billion in savings through 2015
  • We should extend military medical insurance only to working-age retirees who can’t access or afford other insurance plans.
    $15 billion in savings through 2015

We should cap long-term defense spending to keep it sustainable and affordable

  • After trimming the fat, we need to control future growth of national security spending.
  • We should cap security spending so it grows no faster than the rate of inflation plus 1 percent.
    $124 billion in savings in 2017 alone; $985 billion in savings through 2023

Targeted cuts in defense spending can save more than $350B by 2015

John Griffith is a Research Associate with the Doing What Works team at American Progress.

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This is part of a regular column: Budget Bullets

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