With Republicans (narrowly) in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the nation’s deficit on the rise and negotiations over raising the debt ceiling looming on the horizon – whether President Biden wants to admit it or not – it would seem inevitable that significant budget cuts are on the way. While it might seem that way, any serious reevaluation of the nation’s spending and taxation habits is unlikely to occur any time soon. Republicans clearly want to use the debt ceiling as leverage to force spending cuts, but the problem is they’re entirely unwilling to address the real issues: entitlement programs. 

We saw that on display during Biden’s State of the Union address, when he accused Republicans of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare. He was met immediately with a chorus of boos from the Republican side, which wasn’t surprising, since Speaker Kevin McCarthy had taken any cuts to those programs off the table.

That’s certainly an understandable position politically, as those programs are incredibly popular and virtually nobody actually wants to see them cut. In fact, they’re so popular that even being willing to discuss any changes to them whatsoever amounts to political suicide – as Sen. Rick Scott of Florida discovered when he proposed reauthorizing all federal spending after five years, and as former Vice President Mike Pence is likely about to discover having floated cutting the programs. While avoiding discussing those programs may be politically wise, it’s fiscally unrealistic – they account for 31% of all federal spending.

The Department of the Treasury is the next largest department, accounting for almost a fifth of the federal budget. Now, no doubt Republicans would love to scale back that particular department: it includes the dreaded IRS, which recently received a boost in funding from Democrats. Reversing that increase may well save some money, but even if one eliminated it entirely that’s still just a fifth of the federal budget – and no matter what bizarre tax scheme you float, you’re never going to be able to completely eliminate the IRS, let alone the Treasury Department. 

So what’s left, then? Well, a big target could be the Defense Department – there’s some bipartisan interest in cutting spending there. Given the current state of the world, though, now is not the time to be cutting defense spending. While various versions of the “bring the war dollars home” slogan might play well to the base – on both the right and the left – that’s a dangerous proposition. The less America is involved in the world, the more unstable a place it will become, threatening our interests.

We need to make it clear to countries like Russia and China that they can’t simply rewrite the rules to the entire global order on a whim because it’s inconvenient to them. We’re not talking about pointless UN peacekeeping missions that never address the root problems; these are efforts to constrain major powers that are a clear threat to our national security. 


Before World War II, the Western Powers failed to stop Germany before they invaded Poland, allowing it to annex the Sudetenland. The United States wasn’t a party to that agreement – we stayed out of it, just as we failed to stop Russia from invading Crimea or Georgia. History tells us that we can’t ignore problems and hope they go away: It’s vital to our national security that we stop the next war before it begins. 

Instead of cutting defense spending, as so many on the far left and the far right consistently demand, we ought to focus on reforms to the Pentagon budget. We need to modernize our weapons systems and ensure that we’re actually preparing for a conflict that may really happen, rather than buying outdated systems designed to fight the last war. That means that Congress needs to stop forcing the Department of Defense to continue to invest in equipment that it doesn’t really need simply because the program creates jobs. 

It’s a complete fantasy to presume that we can dramatically cut federal spending without touching Social Security or Medicare. But we can make defense spending more efficient. If Republicans can focus on that, while simultaneously cutting discretionary spending in other areas, they may be able to make a dent in our budget issues without plunging the world into chaos down the road. That would make the world, and the United States of America, more safe and secure – a prospect that both parties should welcome.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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