Needed: National Defense Tax To Fund Threadbare Space, Defense Programs
U.S. missile defense and space efforts, along with a vast array of defense programs, are being shortchanged unrelentingly by a government starved of the income it requires to meet critical needs.
The solution is as obvious as it is politically difficult: Congress must provide the money required for vital operations by instituting a new levy, which could be called a National Defense Tax.
It would provide for the first time an opportunity for Americans sitting comfortably at home to sacrifice for the war.
Yes, yes, any use of the word “tax” causes a knee-jerk reaction, outcries of horror and revulsion from some on Capitol Hill. But before we plunge into ideological dogma and decades-old anti-taxes tirades, we need to look at some basic and unavoidable facts that show more revenues, undeniably, are required.
First, it clearly is true that the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 never were affordable. While they were passed amidst projections of gargantuan budget surpluses (former President Clinton ended his eight years in office with surpluses ranging up to $238 billion yearly), those hoped-for surpluses evaporated faster than a drink spilled on Pennsylvania Avenue in July.
Further, even if those alleged surpluses had materialized, they could have been swallowed up by defense procurement programs moving into the steel-bending hardware production years, the enormous fiscal demands of baby boomers hitting retirement age, on and on.
Unpleasant facts show the government is, indeed, underfunded, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, every year, adding to trillions of dollars in the national debt. The government would go bankrupt if the Treasury Department didn’t go hat-in-hand to investors, including those in China, seeking to borrow billions.
Now, those who flatly oppose any and every move to raise new tax revenues will repeat what they’ve said for more than a quarter of a century: Don’t raise taxes. Cut spending instead.
Spending Cuts No Option
Well, another unpleasant fact is that all these years later, Congress has proven endlessly that it won’t slash programs, at least not sufficiently to balance the budget, much less to free up still more funds to cover unmet needs such as space and national defense programs.
Throughout the middle of this decade, whether Republicans or Democrats controlled Congress, spending ballooned and borrowing to pay for deficit spending soared correspondingly.
While lawmakers of both parties love to talk about cutting spending, in the abstract, they never seem to have any great appetite for cutting specific programs where the cuts would total more than half a trillion dollars a year and remove the red ink from government ledgers. And this is BEFORE the baby boomers retire.
So the bottom line is this: if giant spending cuts are not to eventuate, then there is but one realistic way, effectively, to balance the federal budget and supply the funds urgently needed for programs to defend the nation and permit it to retain its leading role in space, and that is to increase government income: raise taxes.
For those who oppose domestic programs, let them sign on to a new or increased tax dedicated solely to supporting defense and space programs.
The National Defense Tax, for perhaps $200 billion a year, could fund now-strangled procurement programs fully, including a multi-layered ballistic missile defense shield (hitting enemy missiles in their boost, midcourse and terminal phases), an increase in the number of military personnel (end strength) to eliminate repeated call-ups of National Guard and reserve forces for duty in Iraq, years of outlays required to repair or replace the enormous array of equipment worn out or destroyed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and much more.
As well, that money could accelerate the first flight of the next-generation Orion-Ares crew exploration system, cutting from half a decade to perhaps three-and-a-half years the huge gap between retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2010 and inception of the Orion-Ares system. The longer the gap, the more young people lose interest in space programs, and NASA and its contractors urgently require young recruits to take the place of a graying space workforce.
Too, added revenues would avert impending deep cuts in science and research programs that are requisite if the United States is to maintain its leadership in space.
For those who attempt to argue that programs aren’t underfunded, wretchedly short of money, consider what the shortage of income has meant in this decade:
Both the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and NASA were short half a billion dollars in the White House budget request for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008, when their budgets arrived on Capitol Hill. For MDA, the money picture has grown grimmer still on the Hill, as lawmakers move to hack out millions here and millions more there, chopping funds for programs ranging from the Airborne Laser that is to kill enemy missiles in their vulnerable time just after launch, to whacking funds for a missile defense system to protect Europe, American troops there, and the United States from missiles launched by Middle Eastern Nations such as Iran. The missile defense cuts come as both Iran and North Korea are moving, rapidly, to develop both ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
For the Navy, there may be some good news, of sorts. It may increase the number of ships bought each year, but the time remains distant when the sea service will begin financing two nuclear attack submarines each year instead of just one annually. And there are troubling questions as to how many DDG 1000 destroyers will be built, whether the number of aircraft carrier groups will tumble from 12 to 11 to 10 to nine, and more.
As for aircraft, the buy for the Air Force F-22, the most advanced fighter aircraft on the planet, has free-fallen from 750 to 381 to 277 to 183. There are questions as to whether the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II STOVL (short takeoff and vertical landing) variant will be built (it’s the one that key allied nations planned to buy), and there may be cuts in the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
The Pentagon has seen years elapse and it hasn’t yet bought aerial refueling tanker aircraft to replace geriatric gas stations in the sky for the Air Force. Perhaps soon the Air Force will select a winning plane in a contract contest, and then money will have to be found for its development and production.
Full funding, it should be conceded, is likely to purchase a huge number of Army and Marine Corps vehicles that would be more resistant to roadside terrorist mines than existing Humvees.
Then there are the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, devouring $100 billion or more annually. Democrats lost their bid to put time limits on the conflict in Iraq and withdraw troops. But even if Democrats and some Republicans manage to impose such a time limit during a legislative battle in the fall, it would be a long time before the war fully wound down and most of the troops departed.
Those are just some of the areas where want is rampant in the ramparts of defense.
But as well, the number of nondefense programs shriveling for want of money also is legion:
In the Department of Homeland Defense, funds are needed for building a fence along the American-Mexican border, and for hiring more border patrol agents, for improving the Deepwater program to provide the Coast Guard with new airplanes, helicopters, cutters and boats, and more.
The Federal Aviation Agency confronts enormously overcrowded airports and airways, as passengers endure ever-longer delays.
Look elsewhere in government and the damage of dollars denied is endemic, encompassing Interstate highways decaying and far short of capacity needs, national parks with buildings decaying, trash pickups canceled and a nationwide lack of Park Police officers because of post 9/11 protection required for national monuments and the like, an Internal Revenue Service that seems unable to buy a computer system that works as well as credit card companies in processing tax returns and refunds, education funding shortages, and much, much more.
This list could be far longer, but you get the idea.
Lawmakers well know all of these bitter disappointments and hard choices that they legislate each year, choices that are compelled by a deficits-creating dearth of revenues.
But even if lawmakers were blithely unaware of these realities, there have been years of warnings from eminent experts.
For example, two electronics associations, in a letter to each member of Congress, noted that the proposed NASA budget of $17.3 billion for fiscal 2008 is $1.4 billion shy of the authorized amount, and far short of what is required for NASA to carry out its many signal responsibilities. (Please see separate story in this issue.)
The American Enterprise Institute, the Aerospace Industries Association, the Heritage Foundation, academic experts, military analysts and more, all have decried the cheaping- out of defense and space programs, spiraling nickel-dime-ing in this, the richest nation on Earth.
There is, beyond any plausible argument otherwise, a fundamental mismatch in which federal government revenues are hopelessly short of paying for the programs that successive generations of presidents and lawmakers have shown, clearly, they won’t cut.
So it is time for leaders to lead, for members of Congress to put their money (or public funds) where their mouths are when they speak of providing the best for our fine men and women in uniform.
New revenues specifically dedicated to defense and space programs are indispensable.
Consider that we are reminded, frequently, that the war in Iraq is unreal or irrelevant to most Americans, because they haven’t been asked to sacrifice for the conflict (except for families sending sons and daughters to fight, and sometimes be maimed or die, for their country).
Well, here is the opportunity to rectify that shortcoming, to have each American give up something to aid in the war on terrorism, and to help provide for the common defense.
While not everyone can carry a rifle, pilot a stealth fighter, man a ballistic missile interceptor control panel, or the like, each of us is capable of providing financial support for those who do perform those vital, often dangerous missions.
It is the least that Americans should be asked to contribute.