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Will Obama & Democrats cut Medicare and Social Security to fund defense spending?

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is whining about military cuts

“We’re already taking our share of the discretionary cuts as part of this debt-ceiling agreement, and those are going to be tough enough,” Panetta told reporters in his first news conference as defense secretary. “I think anything beyond that would damage our national defense.”

…and calling for cuts in Medicare and Social Security instead:

Instead of slashing defense, Panetta said, the bipartisan panel should rely on tax increases and cuts to nondiscretionary spending, such as Medicare and Social Security, to provide the necessary savings.

Sure, he’s calling for tax increases, but remember, as Patrick Martin pointed out the other day:

Theoretically, the [new “super-congress”] could also mandate an end to certain tax breaks to increase government revenues, but Republican leaders are on record opposing even token tax increases on the wealthy, and Obama and the congressional Democratic leadership have dropped their previous demand that any deficit reduction package include some tax increases.

Which means that a Democratic administration will likely increase our bloated, unnecessary military budget on the backs of the poor, elderly, and the working class in general. Remember also that Obama made a deal with Congressional Republicans to spend an additional $185 billion to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

As Glenn Greenwald opines on this:

Just think about that for a minute.  We have a Democratic administration installed in power after millions of liberals donated large amounts of their time and money to help elect them.  Yet here we have a top official in the President’s cabinet demanding cuts to Medicare and Social Security in order to protect the military budget from further reductions.  That’s the position of the Democratic administration.  While it’s true that Pentagon officials reflexively protect the Pentagon budget, there is zero question that Panetta — the career-long supremely loyal Democratic Party functionary — is speaking here on behalf of and with the authorization of the White House; indeed, he said exactly that in the written message he sent about these cuts to the Pentagon’s staff (“this outcome would be completely unacceptable to me as Secretary of Defense, the President, and to our nation’s leaders”).

Moreover, Greenwald’s research reveals the “military cuts” argument to be based on lies and distortions to begin with:

For all the boastful claims from Panetta and others about how much the Pentagon budget was just cut by the first round of the debt deal, the reality, as McClatchy detailed yesterday, is much different: “The new deficit-cutting law appears to reduce defense spending by $350 billion up front and perhaps by as much as $850 billion over 10 years, but in fact that’s highly unlikely to happen.”  That’s because defense hawks ensured that these initial cuts would be applied not only to “defense” but also “security” spending, which encompasses programs “such as homeland security, border enforcement, foreign aid and even veterans’ benefits as potential targets.”  Moreover, as Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin explained on Tuesday night on Rachel Maddow’s program, the magnitude of this first round of cuts as well as the potential series of automatic cuts in the second round is wildly overstated by administration officials given budgetary gimmicks in how these numbers are derived.

No wonder President Obama is telling his supporters that, when working to re-elect him, they should not get “bogged down” in discussions about wars or tax policy.

“If somebody asks about taxes, nobody is really interested in hearing what precise marginal tax rate change would you like to see in the tax code,” Obama said. “What they want to know is that our campaign stands for a fair, just approach to the tax code that says everybody has to chip in, and that it’s not right if a hedge fund manager is being taxed at a lower rate than his or her secretary.”

Of course, nothing the President, or the Democratic leadership, is doing right now will change the inequality the President wishes his supporters to “broadly” focus on. Nor are the Democrats any closer than the GOP on doing what the American people want: 62% believe job creation should be the government’s number one priority, while only 29% believe spending cuts should take precedence.

So much for the declaration that “Keynesian economics” is dead. If anything, Americans, whether they will use the term explicitly or not, want a dose of socialist economics.  Or anything, really, but this strangulatory war economy.

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About Matt J. Stannard

Policy Director for Commonomics USA, longtime writer, speaker, and legal & policy consultant on economic justice and public deliberation.