When the House passed a defense authorization bill last week, the big news was that an amendment providing for the repeal of the ban on gays serving in the military was included. But there was something else notable about it too: the price tag. The bill came to $726 billion. In a break from the Bush years, it actually provides for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of declaring those to be "emergency" spending, as though we didn't see it coming. But here's what I'd like to know: Where are all those "fiscal conservatives" who said that it just cost too darn much to extend unemployment benefits? That we have to live within our means, and stop borrowing money? That the government needs fiscal discipline? That the deficit is a time bomb that will obliterate us all?
Where were they? Nowhere. They're quite happy to borrow hundreds of billions to spend on defense, because they just happen to like spending money on defense. They don't find unemployment benefits, or health care, or any of a hundred other things we could spend money on to be particularly worthy, but instead of just saying so, they say, "Well, we'd love to, but we just can't afford it." You can't call yourself a "deficit hawk" if the only programs you want to cut are the ones you don't like anyway.
And chances are that before the legislative process is done, that $726 billion is going to get bigger. In case you're wondering, we spend about as much on our military as every other country in the world combined. Here's a chart from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation that shows what global military expenditures look like:
-- Paul Waldman