Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week announced that he is recommending Congress limit military pay increases to 1 percent in 2014. In comparison, the pay increase in 2013 was 1.7 percent.
To put this in perspective, this is the smallest pay increase since 1962, when there was no pay increase. Despite the country’s involvement in protracted wars, pay increases for men and women in uniform have continued to decline. In 1978, when the country wasn’t even at war, the military’s pay increased by 6.2 percent.
The U.S. spends more on its military than almost the rest of the world combined, and the budget is rife with waste. But there is no evidence that the meager salaries of most members of the armed services is a major contributor to this waste. Polling shows that while Americans favor reducing waste in the Pentagon budget, they oppose major reductions in military pay.
This morning, President Obama announced that he will be picking former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as his nominee for Secretary of Defense.
There are many different issues that Hagel will face during his confirmation hearings, and progressives can be expected to question him on his past conservative opposition to gay rights.
Here’s one area where he’s more progressive. In a 2011 interview with the Financial Times, he said that the budget is “in many ways bloated” and said that it must be “pared down.”
“War costs money and Hagel understands that. Many believe Hagel wants to dramatically reduce the Department of Defense budget,” writes defense analyst and veteran Kerry Patton. “How many critics realize how much fraud, waste, and abuse rests within the DOD? Any level-headed individual can go into any government office and find wasteful spending. There is no better time than now to take a close look at wasteful spending and start making cuts.”
This would put Hagel to the left of the current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who resisted major defense cuts.
Right-wing politicians and their corporate lobbyist backers want to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits as part of an upcoming “Grand Bargain.” Their goal is to cut social spending and investments in middle class America to pay for corporate tax cuts and more tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
But it’s impossible to talk about the budget deficit without talking about the military budget. It has the largest share of discretionary spending, and we spend more on our military than almost the rest of the world combined.
Even Senator Tom Coburn — a hard-right Republican from Oklahoma — knows that much of this Pentagon spending is wasteful and completely unrelated to our modern security needs. He released a report a few days ago that laid out some of this wasteful spending. Here are a few highlights, from the Washington Times:
• $300,000 spent by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to fund Brown University’s research into archaeopteryx, the 150-million-year-old early bird, in which the researchers determined the creature likely had black feathers.
• An Office of Naval Research research project that helped spawn Caffeine Zone 2, an iPhone application that tells people how to schedule their coffee breaks.
• $1.5 million to develop a special new roll-up beef jerky, which Mr. Coburn said was funded by taking money out of a weapons program.
• $100,000 for a 2011 workshop on interstellar space travel that included a session entitled “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” The session probed how Christian theology would apply in the event of the discovery of aliens.
We can’t talk about the budget deficit without looking at the wasteful Pentagon budget.