Charles Dharapak, AP
This March 27, 2008, file photo, shows the Pentagon in Washington. The House has approved a $716 billion defense policy bill that would give troops a 2.6 percent pay hike, the largest in nine years. The bill, which is the result of a deal struck with the Senate, also would allow the president to waive sanctions against countries that have bought Russian weapons but now want to buy U.S. military equipment.

When President Donald Trump signed a $717 billion defense-spending bill Monday at Fort Drum, New York, much of the media focused on his refusal to mention Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose name was on the bill as a tribute to his distinguished military career.

The president and McCain have been at odds for years.

But while that snub may be interesting, the real story is the size of the budget, which is a 13 percent increase over the previous year. That earlier level already was the largest military budget in the world and was more than the next eight largest nations combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

To put it in further perspective, the increase alone over last year is larger than the entire military budget of any other nation on earth except China.

Unquestionably, national defense is a vital function of the federal government. A strong defense is the best way to ensure peace. It also allows the United States to support peace in other freedom-loving nations and promote U.S. interests abroad.

The United States holds a unique place in the world and often is the only nation willing to stand up to despots and tyrannical thugs. U.S. armed forces still are seen mostly as the good guys in international conflicts.

But that doesn’t mean the military should be given a blank check. In total, the military consumes 16 percent of the overall federal budget. But if you take away the entitlement programs that run on mandatory spending, it consumes about 60 percent or so of what’s left.

With a national debt of $21 trillion and growing, an aggressive accounting of all expenditures is needed. Any budget as large and fast-growing as the military’s is bound to have waste and potential corruption issues, and these ought to be given special attention.

" The nation ought to have a sober discussion about how much military spending is needed to accomplish the nation’s objectives. "

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Lankford publishes an annual “Federal Fumbles” report. Last year, he noted the Air Force spent $745 million on a network upgrade that never happened, and the Department of Defense spent $1 billion on equipment for Iraq that it subsequently lost.

More importantly, the nation ought to have a sober discussion about how much military spending is needed to accomplish the nation’s objectives.

When the president signs a bill that is 7 percent larger than what the White House originally requested, and when even liberal Democrats such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., support it, fiscal conservatives ought to be concerned.

This new budget, and the nation’s growing national debt, come at a time when the administration is proposing to add a national space force as a new branch of the military — a move that certainly would increase defense spending considerably.

A national fiscal crisis would hamper the military’s capabilities. It makes sense to focus on prudent spending now to avoid such a thing.

35 comments on this story

Perhaps the nation’s leaders should be forced to read the farewell address of former President Dwight Eisenhower, certainly no slouch when it came to understanding and appreciating the military.

That speech is noted for his warnings against the military-industrial complex, but another thing he said has application here.

“As we peer into society's future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow.”

Those are wise words.