Frank commission gives deficit hawks a hand

FRANK COMMISSION GIVES DEFICIT HAWKS A HAND…. It came together largely under the radar, but Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) helped create a task force on Pentagon spending, featuring a team of credible defense experts. They’ve reached some interesting conclusions.

A panel commissioned by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is recommending nearly $1 trillion in cuts to the Pentagon’s budget during the next 10 years.

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, a commission of scholars from a broad ideological spectrum appointed by Frank, the House Financial Services Committee chairman, laid out actions the government could take that could save as much as $960 billion between 2011 and 2020.

Measures presented by the task force include making significant reductions to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which has strong support from Defense Secretary Robert Gates; delaying the procurement of a new midair refueling tanker the Air Force has identified as one of its top acquisition priorities; and reducing the Navy’s fleet to 230 ships instead of the 313 eyed by the service.

Among the other possible cuts are savings from reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and reducing U.S. routine military presence in Europe and Asia.

Frank continues to present this approach in the context of priorities and choices — policymakers could agree to these defense cuts without undermining our national security interests, or policymakers interested in reducing the deficit can raise taxes and cut already-short-changed domestic investments.

What’s more, this need not be considered a partisan exercise. As The Hill noted, “Frank requested the creation of the task force in cooperation with Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).”

There’s little reason for optimism on this front; far too many policymakers consider the Pentagon budget entirely off-limits, despite the fact that the United States now spends about as much on defense as every other country on the planet combined. For a Congress so concerned about deficits that it’s willing to let unemployment benefits expire for struggling families, it’s hardly outrageous to think some budget savings can be found in the enormous Pentagon budget.

That said, Frank’s commission does offer alleged deficit hawks an opportunity to rise to the occasion. As Paul Waldman recently explained, “They’re quite happy to borrow hundreds of billions to spend on defense, because they just happen to like spending money on defense…. You can’t call yourself a ‘deficit hawk’ if the only programs you want to cut are the ones you don’t like anyway.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said, publicly and repeatedly, that the United States can’t keep spending such vast amounts of money on the military indefinitely. Any chance conservative deficit hawks — the ones who claim to be desperate to cut government spending — will step up and agree?