Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Reasonable Decision in Our National Interest

There's been a tension here in D.C. lately that troubles me. Well, there've been many tensions, but this one bugs me more than about 74.375% of other issues. On the surface, it's a little budget thing, but it feels to my admittedly overtuned sensibilities like a harbinger of a potential future. Let me elucidate, and you can tell me if I'm being paranoid. I do tend to be that way, you know.

There is a disagreement rumbling around the community here in DC between the Department of Defense and the Congress. The Secretary of Defense is deeply aware of the major crisis that our national debt will eventually cause. Defense Secretary Gates is particularly concerned that the military will be impacted by this debt, and is pressing for some reductions in military spending. In particular, he wants pay increases and benefits for our troops to be limited to a level that's rationally sustainable. There are also several weapons systems that both he and top military brass want discontinued as cost-savings measures, like the development of an unnecessary new engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or building unneeded transport aircraft.

Arrayed against Gates and top military brass are our elected representatives in Congress. Congressmen and women want to be seen as Supporting Our Troops (tm), and have passed numerous laws increasing the mandated benefits for troops and vets and their families. That's a surefire way to get votes, kids. Surefire vote-getting way number two is to make sure that the defense contractors who have positioned factories and offices in their districts continue to produce the weapons systems that produce jobs for folks who vote.

They haven't raised revenue to pay for those expenses, of course. That would mean breaking their promise to Never Raise Your Taxes (tm). It's not one or two members of Congress who do this. It's the nature of the critter. This is just how our representative democracy works. It may also be how representative democracy finally fails.

I'm pretty progressive, and would unabashedly accept the label "liberal." But when I see this disagreement between our unelected military leaders and our elected representatives, I find myself thinking the military is willing to act in the national interest, and Congress is not. By focusing on their own electability and narrowly drawn local interests, our representatives are making decisions that will cripple us as a nation. This seems obvious. They only do this because we make them do it, of course, but we'd rather forget that. Top brass, well, they're making the hard decisions that need to get made. It's the way the military works. That I should have that response is telling.

What worries me, seeing this, is that eventually the debt will hit the fan. We might see massive cutbacks in spending coupled with an increase in taxes. This would be painful, but would preserve the integrity of our republic. Being the pessimist that I am, I doubt this will happen. We would never, ever, ever elect anyone who would do this. If someone slipped through and started making the changes necessary to turn our debt around, we'd run 'em out on a rail.

More likely, we'll eventually see some form of default. When that happens, things will get bad in a way that makes the market seizure of 2008-2009 look like salad days. In that atmosphere of genuine crisis, I can see...and to a certain extent, feel...the temptation to set aside a clearly broken system of governance for one that gets the job done. If it's an emergency, then emergency measures would need to be taken for the security and well-being of the nation. Would we trust Congress to do this?

Or would we, perhaps, see how patriotic and hard-nosed and well-organized the decisions made by our military leaders can be in a time of crisis? Why not turn things over to them for a while, you know, until things have improved?

I can see how people might think this was a reasonable decision in our national interest.