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(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Rep. Rob Bishop, center, is asking the Department of Defense to reconsider furloughing civilian employees at working capital funds depots, including the Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base.
Editorial: Defense must be part of any spending reduction

Pentagon must do its share

First Published Mar 01 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 01 2014 01:01 am

Raise the minimum wage? Can’t afford it. Expand Medicaid? It’ll explode the deficit. Extend unemployment benefits? What are you, some kind of socialist?

Trim defense spending a little, so we no longer spend more money on our military than the next 10 nations combined? We can’t put our national security at risk!

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Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, whose primary purpose in life is to protect the federal spending and jobs in and around Hill Air Force Base, is among those officials, not all of them Republicans, who are scandalized at the new budget proposals from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

In order to keep total defense spending under the level already set by Congress — just less than $500 billion — Hagel is proposing steps that include shrinking, over an unspecified time, the active-duty Army from the current 522,000 soldiers to roughly 450,000. It hasn’t been that small since just before Pearl Harbor.

Some of the proposed cuts are much more troubling than others. It is one thing to conclude that the demands of national security require fewer, better-equipped and more mobile soldiers. It’s altogether another to reduce, as Hagel’s plan does, the housing allowance and other benefits to the soldiers we have left.

But any knee-jerk reaction that there is no good way to spend less on the Pentagon flies in the face of just about everything else that members of Congress, especially those from Utah, say from Morning Joe to Hannity: Cut spending. Shrink the deficit. Federal spending doesn’t stimulate the economy or create jobs.

The size of the defense budget is, and long has been, more about members of Congress bragging that a base or a factory in their state has been expanded or awarded a new contract than any cold analysis of our national security needs.

As recently as Wednesday, Bishop and Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee issued a breathless joint statement singing the praises of, and taking credit for, a new maintenance facility for F-35 fighter jets at Hill. At $400 billion, the F-35 line is the most expensive weapon system in American history and, as The Washington Post reported last year, has proven invulnerable to any kind of budget assault, even from last year’s much-feared sequester.

If we can’t afford to keep spending, and borrowing, at current levels, defense must take its share of the cuts. And if the argument that it should not is that a cut in federal spending harms local economies, then it is hard to see why the same can’t be said for less lethal government programs.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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