President-elect Donald Trump’s recent public rebuff on social media of his own party’s secretive actions to gut the Congressional ethics board was a breath of fresh air. But that is not the only issue he should push back on with Congressional Republicans.
Under a Republican budget resolution, the national debt will explode by a third from an already staggering $19 billion to $29 trillion over the next ten years. Although counterintuitive, Democratic presidents, at least those after World War II, have reduced deficits as a portion of the value of the national economy (GDP) while Republican presidents have increased them—thus accumulating less public debt as a percentage of GDP. Yet neither political party has paid enough attention to this burgeoning national security problem.
National security problem? Yes. General Mike Mullen, while he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top military man, was enlightened enough about long-term health of American power to realize that it takes continuing infusions of money to acquire the weapons and equipment, personnel, training, maintenance and benefits to create a credible military to adequately defend the country. In addition, all other indices of national power—political, diplomatic and cultural—require money too.
To generate those resources, a strong economy is needed. The number one problem dragging down economic growth rates through the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies was a crippling national debt. In turn, even slight differences in economic growth rates over time among great powers can shake up the pecking order among them. With the Chinese economy’s double-digit growth rates in recent years, that is an ominous sign for the long-term international standing and power of the United States.
Politicians, especially Republican ones, love to win votes by cutting taxes while conveniently forgetting all their rhetoric about cutting spending. The American people like government but don’t really want to pay for it. (Considering post-World War II presidents, Democrats cut taxes as a portion of GDP slightly less than Republicans did, but surprisingly restrained spending much more as a percentage of GDP, leading them to generate lower deficits and less debt as a portion of GDP than their Republican counterparts.) Considering the budget resolution, Congressional Republicans may again go down the same path as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, cutting taxes but increasing government spending, thereby widening budget deficits and ballooning the national debt.
Predictably, despite perennial talk of badly needed reform of entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, politicians from all parties are usually afraid to reform these programs, often due to their popularity and powerful constituencies. Yet, as the Baby Boomer generation retires, these programs are teetering on the edge of insolvency. In addition, Republicans are talking about increased infrastructure and defense spending (despite the fact that the United States, with excellent intrinsic security, already shells out on defense what the next seven highest spending nations combined do).
Some hope exists, however, that President-elect Trump is concerned about government spending, even in the security sector. Using Twitter as the main weapon in his public arsenal, he has roiled traditionally Republican constituencies by criticizing the costly F-35 fighter program and Boeing’s extravagant modification of Air Force One. But President-elect Trump should also take a wider look at the unnecessary and costly U.S. role as the world’s policemen, which he criticized during his campaign. Trillions could be saved by providing for the common defense, which is all the Constitution authorizes—not military operations around the globe to wage offensive war, export democracy, keep the peace, or even ensure stability. Sticking to the nation’s founders’ notion of a non-militaristic republic would both save money and help renew U.S. economic power, making America great again for the foreseeable future and beyond.