How did defense fare in the debt ceiling deal?
Well, in the short term, it made out very well because, as the first part of the deficit reduction deal, defense is going to take a $350 billion cut over the next decade. Obama had already told them back in April to take $400 billion. Now, the second phase—if this "super panel" can't come to an agreement, they could take higher cuts. But I don't think that will happen because defense would take roughly $500 billion to $600 billion in cuts and nondefense discretionary spending would take an equal amount. The Republicans are not going to let that happen to defense, and the Democrats are not going to get into things like education, housing, and health services.
Why is it important to get serious about reining in our defense spending?
Well, I think it's very important to get defense spending under control because after 9/11, what we call the baseline budget, not the funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, basically almost doubled in real terms. We are spending again, even if you control for inflation, more than we did at the height of the Reagan buildup and about $100 billion more than we spent on average in the Cold War. So it's important to get that back to where it should be, and if we do it correctly, we can do it without undermining national security.
How can Congress cut defense spending without sacrificing national security?
Well, it's not how much you spend, it's what you spend it on. And for example, we spend over $50 billion a year right now—and it's on its way to almost $70 billion—to allow working-age military retirees to get health care for $430 a year for a family, because we haven't raised it since 1995. And they don't take the health care plan to work; that's not going to impact national security. We have 5,000 nuclear weapons; the Air Force says you don't need more than 311 for deterrent, so you can easily go down to that in terms of protecting your security.
We need to manage better. Realize, in the last decade—because there were no real constraints on defense spending—we spent $50 billion on weapons that we've already canceled. We've had $400 billion in overruns on weapons systems because we haven't really had to put our nose to the grindstone and recognize there were limits on what we could spend on defense. You're buying weapons like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the Navy that are way overbudget and that you really don't need. You can continue building the existing line of planes—the F/A-18E/Fs. So there are a whole bunch of areas you could take a look at to get those savings, so it's really not going to impact national security. In fact, it will help it, because if you get your deficit under control, that's going to be important to national security.