Bessent: The right way to cut military spending

U.S. soldiers walk with their Afghan translator near U.S. soldiers walk with their Afghan translator near the scene of a suicide attack in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo Credit: AP, 2012

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Alvin Bessent Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Alvin Bessent

Alvin Bessent joined the Newsday editorial board in 1993. He writes about national government policy and politics.

If Congress is serious about controlling military spending, it will have to actually spend less. But that's something lawmakers are loathe to do.

The latest example came Wednesday when members of the House Armed Services Committee crafting a 2015 budget, rejected some of the Pentagon's proposals for slowing the growth in military compensation.

The Defense Department wanted shave back the rate of increase in the basic housing allowance it gives service members who live off base. And it wanted to cut commissary subsidies, while noting none of the stores would close and, because they would still be exempt from rent or taxes, they would still provide steep discounts for military shoppers.

Those economies were included in President Barack Obama's proposed $495.6 billion defense budget, but were dumped in committee.

And earlier this year Congress passed -- and then quickly repealed -- a small reduction in cost of living increases for young military retirees.

It's not hard to understand why; Cutting any benefit for the men and women in uniform is painful and politically perilous. That's the case even though military pay and benefits have risen 40 percent more than growth in the private sector since 2001, and more than the Department of Defense requested.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

A much better way to reduce personnel costs is to reduce the 1.3 million headcount of active military personnel. But Congress isn't likely to go along with Obama's proposal to cut the Army next year from 520,000 active-duty troops to 440,000.

After all, Congress has has consistently funded weapons systems based on where they're built rather than whether they're needed. And it has rejected defense department request to close domestic bases for the last two years.

Demanding savings is easy. Actually delivering them isn't.

You also may be interested in: