Hard Choices

/ February 17, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Two lawmakers last week made it clear they want nothing to do with the oft-cited "hard choices" that dominate defense budget conversations these days.

Republican Sen. James Inhofe (OK) and Rep. Trent Franks (AZ) introduced a joint resolution on Feb. 12 that supports a minimum annual defense budget equivalent to 4 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

The idea is hardly new, but it comes at a time when all signs point to an inevitable advent of declining defense budgets in the face of a deep economic crisis.

Advocates of a 4-percent floor believe such a move would make spending on defense programs more predictable and ensure a big-enough industrial base. Opponents say the requirement would tempt defense leaders into crafting national security strategies to fit a given defense budget -- instead of working the other way around.

In his remarks introducing the joint resolution on the Senate floor, Inhofe sought to cast his proposal as a means to counter the economic crisis.

The measure would "create and maintain jobs across America and sustain our military industrial base," he said. "Investing in our Nation's defense provides thousands of sustainable American jobs and provides for our national security at the same time. Experts estimate that each $1 billion in procurement spending correlates to 6,500 jobs."

Inhofe added: "Major defense procurement programs are all manufactured in the United States with our aerospace industry alone employing 655,000 workers spread across 44 States. The U.S. shipbuilding industry supports more than 400,000 workers in 47 States."

Irrespective of the 4-percent question, Inhofe's remarks foreshadow a drama that could soon unfold on Capitol Hill should defense leaders opt to recommend the axing of some of the big-ticket weapon programs this budget season.

Will lawmakers agree to cut Defense Department programs under the current economic pressure when the same economic pressure demands that they preserve defense-related jobs in their districts?

Talk about hard choices.

-- Sebastian Sprenger