Bloomberg View: Easy Cuts at the Defense Dept.; A Constitutional Case for Obamacare

Easy Cuts at the Defense Dept. ● The Constitutional Case for Obamacare


A culture of shared sacrifice is one of the greatest strengths of the U.S.’s volunteer military. It is not, however, a good basis on which to decide budget cuts. Facing at least $450 billion in reductions over the next decade—and as much as $1 trillion total if the congressional deficit supercommittee fails to reach a consensus and the automatic deficit trigger kicks in—Defense Secretary Leon Panetta may be tempted to follow precedent and ask for trims across the services and their programs. But it would be far better for U.S. security, and future budgets, if Panetta focused on eliminating clearly identified waste and redundancies.

Although some big-ticket items, such as drawing down troop levels in Afghanistan, will have to play out politically, the Pentagon could act quickly to halt production on a number of unnecessary projects. The savings could be spent on programs that will prepare us for our immediate and future challenges. We have a few suggestions for where to cut:

● The F-35 Lightning II. Lockheed Martin’s next-generation fighter plane is a wonder of versatility, but the current generation is still vastly superior to the competition—only one American fighter jet has been shot down by enemy fire in the past 40 years. The Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission advocated eliminating the Marine Corps version of the F-35 and trimming by half the number going to the Navy and Air Force, for a savings of $30 billion over the next four years. The entire $385 billion program should be on the chopping block.

● The Ford-class supercarrier. At a time when the Navy is questioning whether it needs (or can afford) all 11 carrier groups that it has, why would it want to spend $120 billion on 10 new carriers that offer few significant improvements over the current Nimitz class (especially given that the signal upgrade is designed to launch the equally unnecessary F-35)? Carriers are big, easy targets in an era defined by asymmetric warfare and are vulnerable to vastly improved antiship weapons. When China launched its first aircraft carrier in August, a State Dept. spokesman said the U.S. “would welcome any kind of explanation that China would like to give for needing this kind of equipment.” We would welcome the same from the U.S. Navy.

● The M1 Abrams tank. The mainstay of combat operations since 1980, the M1 is a fine vehicle, but as Lieutenant General Robert Lennox, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, told a Senate committee last spring: “We’ve got a very fit and complete fleet. And that’s what has caused us to stop buying something that we no longer need.” The Army says it could save $1.3 billion a year if it temporarily shut down the M1 manufacturing plant in Ohio for three years. But, as so often happens when a weapons system is under review, a group of congressmen has rallied around the manufacturer—in this case, a unit of —to keep production going. In general, these scenarios in which the military claims to not want a program that Congress is intent on saving are Kabuki theater; the truth is that the generals can kill anything they are intent on killing.

None of this is to say that we should halt or impair military research and development. In fact, innovative programs should get more money. The Predator and other drone programs are excellent examples of relatively cheap technologies that have paid huge dividends, and deserve expanded budgets. To free up that money, however, Panetta has to find big savings, and programs such as those above are obvious targets.


Should the U.S. Supreme Court take up health-care reform this year? So far only one appeals court has ruled that the “individual mandate” in Obamacare—the requirement that virtually everybody must buy insurance, with government assistance if needed—overreaches the federal government’s powers under the commerce clause of the Constitution.

It’s not a trivial argument, but an affirmative ruling would be a huge departure from our understanding of the commerce clause going back to the New Deal. If the health-care law’s individual mandate is unconstitutional, so is much of what the government has been doing for 80 years or so, and it will be the duty of the Supreme Court to sort through the ruins of the federal government as we know it and find a few shards to start building again.

Ever since Obamacare passed in 2010, it has been attacked as a costly and possibly unconstitutional intrusion of the federal government into people’s lives. Today, most Democrats feel, the less said about health-care reform the better.

But if the new law loses in the Supreme Court, it will stay dead a long time. It took 17 years before anybody felt like scaling that mountain again after Hillary Clinton’s failure two administrations ago. The Republican who was President for almost half that time made no effort. No prominent Republican Presidential candidate made it an issue, nor did Republican leaders in Congress push legislation.

If we wake up one day in June with no health-care reform and no prospect of getting it, who will cheer? Not the 40 million or so Americans who don’t have insurance now. Not the millions more with pre-existing conditions that leave them jobless or clinging to jobs they may not like. Not many of the doctors and nurses who labor in the current mess of a health-care system. President Barack Obama may figure that he’s going to pay for the real and imaginary burdens his major legislative accomplishment will impose. He might as well start people thinking about the benefits.

    BOTTOM LINE - To read Noah Feldman on the death of Anwar al-Awlaki and Michael Kinsley on Mitt Romney, go to:
    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.