Blowing a Hole in the Budget

Weekly WastebasketBlowing a Hole in the Budget

Budget & Tax  | Quick Takes
Nov 3, 2017  | 7 min read

BREAKING: The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” dropped yesterday. And yes, we have things to say about it, too. But first, the Weekly Wastebasket.

This week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released an estimate of the cost of the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years. And it’s a doozy.

The CBO estimates it will cost $1.2 trillion to carry out the planned nuclear force for the next 30 years. That’s almost two entire Pentagon budgets. But even then, we want to point out this number is probably on the low side.

The estimate is based on the nuclear forces plan put forth by President Obama in his last budget, Fiscal Year 2017, something we know President Trump does not intend to follow.

Any attempt to predict 30 years of inflation would be a rough estimate, and CBO has to make choices about how to calculate projections. But we feel duty bound to point out that the ultimate 30-year cost of the nuclear weapons enterprise will not be $1.2 trillion. It will be $1.2 trillion plus N.

Second, there is also zero chance President Trump, or any future president, will hew to the exact nuclear force structure set forth by President Obama. In fact, the Pentagon is currently undertaking a periodic Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to present options on nuclear policy to President Trump by the end of 2017. Considering that it has been reported that President Trump would like to dramatically increase the nuclear arsenal, it seems highly unlikely the NPR will result in a plan that’s smaller than the one envisioned by President Obama.

Let’s be clear; a program that costs well more than $1 trillion, even if it’s over 30 years, is simply unaffordable.

An unpaid bill for a trillion dollars (or more) hamstrings future presidents as they try to make fiscal decisions. And we would argue that you have to consider that the country is already $20 trillion in debt, which is more than 100 percent of GDP. As we have argued time and time again, we need to prioritize our security spending to meet the threats we face in a way we can afford.

Part of the reason this plan is so painfully expensive is that the 30-year period assumes the modernization of all three legs of the nuclear triad: land based, air launched, submarine launched. That means the Pentagon seeks to modernize the nuclear warheads for all three systems and buy a new bomber for the Air Force and a new submarine for the Navy. And (sarcasm alert) for sure that will be a transparent and inexpensive endeavor.

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The Air Force is already off to a bad start with the next-generation bomber, the B-21. In fact, the Air Force is maintaining that disclosing the full contract value for the B-21 development contract would be giving too much information to the enemy.

Hogwash! That earned the Air Force our Golden Fleece award, one of the most ridiculous things we’ve heard in a long time but it did give us the opportunity to poke fun at the argument with a short video based on the old television show, “I’ve Got a Secret.”

Go ahead and click on this link to watch it. We’ll wait.

Wasn’t that fun? We have the greatest respect for Senator McCain’s quest to get the Air Force to release the information.

Meanwhile, the Navy is in the midst of developing the new Columbia-class submarine to replace the current Ohio-class to modernize the submarine-based leg of the triad.

For a while there, it looked like the shipbuilding boosters in Congress would be successful in getting the huge costs of that endeavor moved out of the Navy budget and into the so-called “Sea-Based Deterrence Fund.

Luckily, that’s a bad idea that seems to have died. But we’re keeping an eye out for any resurgence of that terrible plan.

The third leg of the triad, the land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), is last on the list of programs to modernize in the nuclear enterprise. And at Taxpayers for Common Sense we believe this is where the Pentagon could save some money.

The ICBMs are the least survivable leg of the triad. If angry nuns can find the silos and vandalize them, it’s safe to assume our global enemies also know where they are.

And the missile fields are the largest reason that several U.S. Air Force bases exist in the Great Plains states. Getting rid of the ICBMs would save money in two ways: 1) no redevelopment and recapitalization costs for the weapon systems and, 2) those bases could be closed.

Finally, let’s remember that the greatest current threat to U.S interests is terrorism. And, as we’ve written and said before, you can’t fight terror with nukes.

These ideas aren’t likely to make us popular, but our mission is to find wasteful spending and shine a light on it. We hope the Nuclear Posture Review is taking a holistic view of the nuclear triad and the availability of taxpayer dollars to actually pay for it.