Shortly before President Barack Obama took office, Harvard economist Martin Feldstein called for expanding the U.S. military budget.
Coming amid a recession, in December 2008, he made the suggestion as a stimulus strategy. Feldstein, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President Ronald Reagan, published a commentary on how such an expansion could create jobs and boost production.
“Military procurement has the further advantage that almost all of the equipment and supplies that the military buys is made in the United States, creating demand and jobs here at home,” Feldstein wrote.
The last administration didn’t embrace it. President Donald Trump, who inherited a stronger economy, has.
Trump is asking Congress for what he called “a historic increase in defense spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America.”
The hike in the Pentagon budget would total 3 percent, Mick Mulvaney, the White House’s new budget director, said before the congressional address — a boost of about $19 billion over the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) insisted a “world on fire” demands a bigger increase. “We can and must do better,” he said.
Whatever the final total will be, bigger defense spending holds obvious attraction for Trump and the GOP-led Congress. Industry officials seek contracts for cutting-edge equipment from robot PT boats to unmanned subs.
Long Island aerospace companies will have “an opportunity we don’t want to miss,” Air Industries Group acting CEO Peter Rettaliata was quoted in Newsday as saying. “Politics and promotion will be the most important things for us now,” he said. “Aerospace is a business steeped in politics.”
Some economists see all this as a limited benefit. Military development means a lot of federal spending both in red states and in the redder parts of blue states such as Long Island.
Back in December, Trump showed interest in the details of military procurement. “The F-35 program and cost is out of control,” he tweeted. “Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.”
Negotiations reportedly followed that will reduce the stated prices for the aircraft for which Lockheed Martin partners with Northrop Grumman, United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems.
Armaments and armed forces survive as a big and important venture. How the personnel and hardware come to be used invites a different discussion.