Lawmakers — 57 — Call for Cuts

Complete UPDATE: Includes Analysis of Lawmakers Arguments Four senators have joined 48 members of the House calling for cuts of as much as $1 trillion to the Pentagon budget. The four senators -- Ben Cardin, Leahy, Bernie Sanders, Ron Wyden -- are all staunch liberals. The absence of any conservative or defense Democrats would appear to raise serious questions about just how much support such deep cuts would attract in the august body.

Complete UPDATE: Includes Analysis of Lawmakers Arguments

Four senators have joined 48 53 members of the House calling for cuts of as much as $1 trillion to the Pentagon budget.

The four senators — Ben Cardin, Leahy, Bernie Sanders, Ron Wyden — are all staunch liberals. The absence of any conservative or defense Democrats would appear to raise serious questions about just how much support such deep cuts would attract in the august body.

The letter by Rep. Barney Frank to his colleagues asking for their support calls for “targeting waste and mismanagement at DoD,” first and foremost, indicating the general tenor of their approach. Then the letter goes on to call for “a frank assessment of current U.S. military goals and strategies, which in many cases involve outdated assumptions that leave the United States spending money on commitments as well as weaponry that are no longer necessary for our national security, and are in fact unexamined relics of the Cold War.”

Frank clearly seeks a return to the isolationist approach on spending. “Many of these commitments involve extending protections to other nations that ought to be carrying the burden of defending themselves to a much greater extent than they currently are,” he argues.

But what is really interesting is the distance between the letter above, sent to Frank’s colleagues to convince them to sign on to a separate letter intended for the presidential National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. This group is compiling recommendations to the White House on whether, and how much, and where funds should be cut from the federal budget.

They target the size of the Defense Department budget, operating from the age-old theory that you cut where the money is. “The Department of Defense currently takes up almost 56% of all discretionary federal spending, and it accounts for nearly 65% of the increase in annual discretionary spending levels since 2001. Much of this increase, of course, is attributable to direct war costs, but nearly 37% of discretionary spending growth falls under the ‘base’ or ‘peacetime’ military budget,” they say in the letter to the commission.

The good news is, they say, “substantial cuts can be made without” angering any veterans or retired military. And it can be done “without threatening our national security, without cutting essential funds for fighting terrorism…” And we can still fund counter-terror operations “without cutting essential funds.”

After all that good news, they go on to target American commitments overseas. They say “much” of those savings can be extracted If “we are willing to make an honest examination of the cost, benefit, and rationale” of those commitments which date to the Cold War. “Given the relative wealth of these [European and Asian] countries, we should examine the extent of this burden that we continue to shoulder on our own dime,” the letter to the commission says.

And then there are those “Cold War-era weapons systems and initiatives such as missile defense.” And then there’s the money that could be saved with improving Pentagon acquisition. They cite no less a source than former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who “has speculated that waste and mismanagement accounted for at least 5% of the Pentagon budget annually…:”

By contrast, the letter to fellow members ranks “waste” at the top of the list and then goes after those foreign commitments. Make those foreigners we help pay for our help or make them help themselves, the developing line seems to be. Rep. Ron Paul’s endorsement of this approach may indicate the Tea Party types may endorse this, as have some isolationist factions in the GOP over the years. Whether the post-World War II consensus that American interests are well served by power projection will be the test of this latest effort to curb waste, abuse and to make those foreign devils pay.

But the signers of the letter to the presidential commission rule out the one area where money could be saved straight off, saying that “we are opposed to cuts in services and increased fees for our veterans and military retirees.” Boil all of that down and you are left with overseas bases and weapons as the only places to cut.

Here’s the list of most of the House members who’ve signed (a few were added after we got our copy of the letter):

Baldwin, Blumenauer, Capuano, Clay, Cohen, Conyers, Cummings, DeFazio, Delahunt, Doyle, Donna Edwards, Farr, Fattah, Filner, Frank, Grayson, Grijalva, Hastings, Honda, Lee, Lewis, Maloney, Markey, McCollum, McGovern, George Miller, Gwen Moore, Nadler, Norton, Olver, Pallone, Paul, Polis, Price, Quigley, Rush, Linda Sanchez, Schrader, Serrano, Sires, Stark, Tierney, Thompson, Waters, Watt, Welch,  Woolsey and Wu.

[Eds. note: The $1 trillion figure is not quoted in the letter but it comes from a report called “Debt, Deficits and Defense: A Way Forward” which the letter’s authors have cited repeatedly as their benchmark for cuts.