Founder Elbridge Gerry declared that “A standing army ... it’s an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure.” His insight led to the delegation to Congress of responsibility: “To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years.” The limitation of two year appropriations has been ignored since 1904.
Today, Congress regularly violates this clause and authorizes annual defense budgets equal to nearly 3.4 percent of the gross domestic product and commits to decades long acquisition budgets.
This allows for the maintenance of 11 super carriers. Three more have been ordered, each costing in excess of $13 billion dollars to build and $2 billion to maintain annually. One super carrier built and maintained for four years would pay for the Ike Dike. Mostly the behemoths have, as Gerry forecast, been used for foreign adventures from the Middle East to Sudan.
They haven’t served as a deterrent to our most likely adversaries, terrorists.
We maintain an Air Force of the most sophisticated bombers and fighters. The F-35 fighter program will cost $1.5 trillion dollars. Thousands of these fighters will be built to fight no significant adversary. The Russians spend $47 billion to maintain 4,000 aging aircraft and the Chinese $151 billion to maintain a similar fleet.
Our defense budget of $647 billion maintains 13,000 aircraft. Our principal active adversaries, terrorists, have only drones and tactical missiles.
Our Army maintains an armada of about 10,000 M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks at a purchase price of about $90 billion. None are deployed in defense of our Canadian or Mexican border. Most sit in Europe or Asia waiting for the unlikely outbreak of war. They mostly are used in foreign adventures.
The Constitution requires Congress approve all spending, but they have abrogated that responsibility and allowed presidents to shift funds to programs whether they’re approved or even disapproved by Congress. Recently, the current president shifted billions from defense to provide for the partial construction of a border wall.
He promised that Mexico would pay for it. When they declined, he asked the American taxpayer for the money, the Congress declined. Under a theory known as the Unitary Executive, he simply took the money away from the Defense Department to build the wall. Among the projects affected were: hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico, defense of Eastern Europe against Russian threats, cyber security programs, ship maintenance programs, and, ironically, new middle schools for the children of active duty personnel.
Canceling one extra super carrier would have paid for a finished wall, as if that would be useful against terrorists. Canceling another would protect the oil and natural gas facilities in Texas City. Reducing the F-35 program by half would protect most of Manhattan from the next super storm. It’s his choice to follow the instructions of Congress or to allow our defenses against climate to continue to deteriorate.