Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., is asking Republicans how they plan to simultaneously increase U.S. military activity and reduce the deficit without raising taxes.
If you want to intervene in Syria or conduct other U.S. military actions around the world, then raise taxes, Frank said, speaking March 27 at the Center for National Policy in Washington.
Over the last decade, the U.S. government reduced taxes beyond what was prudent, given it was conducting two wars, he said.
Rather than raise taxes, Republicans would like to reduce “entitlement” or mandatory spending programs, which include Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Frank said he’d like to make medical care in the U.S. more efficient, but said he did not approve of reducing medical care, especially for poor people. Instead, Frank said he’d like to see steeper cuts to defense spending. Today’s defense budget is still designed to counter an existential threat like that posed by the Soviet Union, he said, despite the fact that one no longer exists.
Frank, who announced in November that he is not running for re-election, serves as the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. He said the country could reduce defense spending by 25 percent and still maintain its position as the strongest military power in the world.
“Terrorists are not the functional equivalent of the threat posed by fascism or the Soviet Union,” he said, because they cannot defeat the U.S. militarily. “You can’t beat terrorists with nuclear submarines, although I wish you could, because we have them.”
Frank said the United States no longer needs to maintain three different ways of delivering nuclear weapons, what is known as the nuclear triad. The U.S. has bomber aircraft, intercontinental ballistic missiles and ballistic missile submarines.
The Obama administration’s 2013 budget request protects all three legs of the nuclear triad but delays the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine replacement by two years.
“During the Cold War, we had three ways of dropping nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union; we still have three ways to drop nuclear weapons, even though there is no longer a Soviet Union,” Frank said. “I’d like to tell the Pentagon: pick two.”
Frank was also critical of NATO, saying it currently serves as a vehicle to subsidize European defense. He would also remove U.S. forces from Okinawa and end operations in Afghanistan.
Frank said with these reductions, the United States could still maintain a strong military presence. He said he wanted the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet to remain in the Middle East and for the U.S. to be able to protect Taiwan.
Despite his call for further reductions to defense spending, Frank said the automatic spending cuts that would take place under sequestration are not the right method for shrinking the Defense Department’s budget.
Currently, the Pentagon plans to cut an estimated $487 billion over the next decade to meet discretionary spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act. If Congress fails to enact an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, sequestration, which imposes automatic spending cuts across the government, would start in January 2013, including an additional $500 billion cut automatically from DoD.
While Frank said the amount of defense spending to be cut under sequestration was not excessive, he opposed the method.
The Pentagon should have the ability to pick and choose what should and shouldn’t be cut, rather than sustaining the across-the-board cuts that would come with sequestration, he said.
Congress is headed for two train crashes: sequestration and the expiration of the tax cuts that were first signed into law by President George W. Bush, Frank said. The tax cuts are set to expire Jan. 1, the same day that sequestration goes into effect.
Frank predicted it would be the most powerful lame duck session in history, with the results of the November elections shaping everything.