Our Views: Make cuts, not politics

Louisiana has some dogs in the fight coming on Capitol Hill over the defense budget.

Bases and operations of the Army and Air Force, particularly, are important to Louisiana communities, most so at Fort Polk and Barksdale Air Force Base in northern Louisiana.

And also there is the important role that shipbuilding plays in the economy on the Gulf Coast: A smaller military budget probably means fewer ships in future years.

A predictable level of complaint is likely on Capitol Hill.

“Cutting our capabilities should be our last resort, especially when the Defense Department has identified over $23 billion in wasted funds,” said U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.

It is a characteristic of Republican tax-cutters that they have an instinctively negative reaction to budget cuts that are made inevitable by their own enthusiasm for cutting taxes. Seemingly, a free lunch is expected at the Pentagon but not at the food stamp counter. “Wasted funds” are typically those that other senators and congressmen did not want cut in their states, or weapons contracts that provide jobs in different parts of the country.

But Vitter is hardly alone in having a parochial concern for the bases and military spending in his state; Democratic senators and members of the House are likely to share angst over the cuts.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, formerly a Republican senator, is following in the footsteps of his Republican predecessor at the Pentagon, Robert Gates, in demanding reductions that are planned, mission-driven and not influenced by arbitrary politics of influential members, Democrats and Republicans.

We hope that members of Congress can have a debate that is focused on the military’s missions and not overwhelmed by the politics of parochial interests. Easy enough for us to say, as Fort Polk and Barksdale appear in good shape in the Hagel budget proposal. Still, we can’t have something for nothing in the Defense Department, and Congress has to achieve a collective decision that is focused on military realities and provides the money that the national defense requires.

Defense takes precedence over affluence, Adam Smith warned better than two centuries ago. It’s still true, but we can’t support a Pentagon on borrowed money forever. The budget has to balance, and that means cuts at the Defense Department at some level.