Duane Shank, senior policy advisor (!) of Sojourners, makes the kind of statement today that leaves one despairing of math education in the United States. In response to the State of the Union address, he writes:

The president urged that annual domestic spending be frozen for the next five years, even though, as he noted, domestic spending is only about 12 percent of the budget (or about $400 billion per year).It has been said here before, but is worth saying again: Domestic spending is not the cause of our deficit.

The annual military budget, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is about $725 billion, $3 billion per week. Including the related costs of veterans benefits, other security-related spending, nuclear weapons spending, intelligence spending; the total exceeds $1 trillion per year. Yet all that was mentioned in the State of the Union about that was, “The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.” No specific cuts, not even a commitment to a freeze. [Emphasis added.]

The one number that does not appear in Shank’s post is the 2011 budget deficit, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will be $1.48 trillion. What Shank also leaves out is the word “discretionary.” In fact, when all entitlements (which are, of course, spent domestically, and in the case of Medicaid, exclusively on the poor) are added in, it turns out that domestic spending is more on the order of $2.8 trillion, with what he calls “security-related spending” (including over $112 billion for veterans affairs–you know, helping wounded warriors, that kind of thing) being about $1 trillion (a figure that he only gets to by including the interest on debt from previous military spending, and that must be paid in any event). Now, let’s say we take the route that Shank’s seems to be advocating here, and go the Costa Rica route. We eliminate the entire American military, all intelligence gathering, all care for veterans. It’s true that by doing that we both violate our obligations to those who have sacrificed for their nation and increase unemployment by over one million, but let’s do it. Having done so, we still have a federal budget deficit of approximately a half a trillion dollars, which is to say a larger deficit than in any other year in American history.

Am I suggesting that the Pentagon’s budget shouldn’t be cut? Not at all–but the idea that even a substantial portion of the deficit can be eliminated through defense cuts is the kind of argument only a pacifist or far leftist could make with a straight face. The defense budget hasn’t even gone up all that much in the last three years (about 3% a year), while the deficit, of course, has gone from a then-record $438 billion in 2008 to over a trillion in each of the last three years. To contend that “domestic spending is not the cause of our deficit” is like saying that the six slices of triple-chocolate cake I’ve been having for dinner every night for the last year had nothing to do with my expanding waistline–it’s got to be the fault of the granola bar I have for breakfast each day.

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