The Pentagon Has More Money Than It Can Spend. Both Democrats and the GOP Are To Blame | Opinion

It's the final moment of the popular gameshow the Price is Right, the Showcase Showdown, where two contestants have a chance to win tens-of-thousands of dollars in prizes. They place their bids and hope to come as close as possible to correctly guessing the actual cost of the prizes. But then the unthinkable happens—a loud horn blares and the normally cheery host begrudgingly informs the contestants that they have both overbid and neither will win that new car or coveted camper.

This is, unfortunately, far too analogous with where Republicans and Democrats find themselves in the debate over how much money to give to the Pentagon in fiscal year 2020. The bid from the Republican controlled Senate is $750 billion. The just passed bid from the Democratic controlled House is $733 billion. Both have radically overbid on the price of the Pentagon.

Perhaps they're forgetting that Pentagon contractors sometimes charge over a thousand dollars for $32 parts. Or maybe they're not remembering earlier this year when the Pentagon reported giving $27.7 billion back to the Treasury last year simply because the money couldn't be spent quickly enough (and that was after a last-minute spending spree which included $4.6 million on crab and lobster and buying a $9,000 chair.)

As they quibble over a difference of roughly 2 percent of the budget for the world's largest bureaucracy, both parties are blindly buying into the fallacy that more spending equals more security. If these myriad examples of wasting taxpayer dollars are any indication, more spending most certainly does not equal more security.

The real cost of the prize that is America's security is significantly lower than what either party is currently bidding. As the Sustainable Defense Task Force—a group of ex-military officers, former White House and Congressional budget experts, and non-governmental analysts convened by the Center for International Policy which we co-chair—has found, America can be made more secure through less, not more, Pentagon spending. This is possible by rethinking U.S. defense strategy, taking a sober and fact-based assessment of the enormous amount of money already flowing to the Pentagon, and rigorously cutting waste and inefficiencies from the Pentagon bureaucracy.

To save taxpayer money and increase U.S. national security, the first step must be to reconceptualize U.S. strategy. That means abandoning the military-first approach that has governed U.S. security policy during this century. It also means abstaining from nation building or large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns like those that have been waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, often to disastrous effect; reducing our nuclear arsenal to the level needed to dissuade any nation from attacking the United States or its allies, as proposed by the organization Global Zero; looking for areas of cooperation as well as competition with great power rivals like Russia and China; beefing up capabilities for preventing conflict through diplomacy rather than force; and focusing on risks that cannot be addressed by the military, from climate change to the rise of extreme nationalism to information warfare and cybersecurity.

Second, any unbiased assessment of the Pentagon's budget shows that the Pentagon hasn't been short of funds—far from it. In fact, the Pentagon budget is already higher than at any point during the Cold War, when the existential threat of nuclear war was very real, and nearly as high as the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when we had nearly ten times the number of troops in those countries as we do now. And contrary to the claims of Pentagon budget boosters who claim that our military has been "decimated" by caps on the Pentagon's core budget imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), the Pentagon is slated to receive $1 trillion more in the BCA decade than it did in the prior ten years, when the Iraq and Afghan wars were at their peaks.

Third, If Members of Congress sought cuts to wasteful spending at the Pentagon with the same fervor they seek Pentagon pork flowing to their Districts the Pentagon budget would be dramatically reduced. It goes without saying that the largest government bureaucracy is wasting an obscene amount of money through gross inefficiencies and, in some cases, outright fraud.

Getting the price—and purpose—of the Pentagon right is far more than an exercise in bean counting. We owe it to our troops to assign them only the missions that are essential to our safety as a nation. And with the national debt soaring even as basic national needs like infrastructure, education, and green technology are scrambling for support, runaway Pentagon spending risks undermining the resilience of our economy and the health and well-being of our people—the true foundations of security. It's time for Congress to get the price right when it comes to keeping America safe and prosperous.

Ben Freeman is the director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy and William D. Hartung directs the Center's Arms and Security Project.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​