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Blue Angels Budget Blues

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The Navy’s Blue Angels flight-demonstration team is in trouble. And not because their commander resigned earlier this year after flying his F/A-18 Hornet below minimum altitude at an air show in Virginia and causing a month-long safety stand-down.

Headquartered at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, the Blue Angels have been flying and thrilling audiences for more than 60 years. The team began after World War zII with the desire of Adm.Chester Nimitz to maintain peacetime support for naval aviation and highlight the Navy and Marines, from which the Blue Angels gets its pilots, for potential recruits who didn’t live near a Naval base.

The Air Force has a similar demonstration team called the Thunderbird’s, while the Army has the Golden Knights parachute team.

The Blues, as the Blue Angels squadron is known, made 70 performances at 35 locations around the United States in 2011 during a show season that runs from March through November. More than 100,000 people attended the recent Blue Angels end-of-season show at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. The Navy says that about 11million people each year watch the Blue Angels six blue and gold jets twist, turn, drop, and climb in perfect formation for a carefully choreographed 45-minute show. As one who lived for many years in Pensacola, I can testify that seeing the Blue Angels fly is impressive.

However, all of this comes at a price. There have been 26 Blue Angels pilots who have been killed in air-show or training accidents, most recently in 2007 when a pilot lost control of his plane and crashed during an air show in South Carolina. The other cost is that borne by American taxpayers. The Pentagons budget for the Blue Angels is $37million.

But the mission of the Blue Angels is purely promoting naval aviation and recruiting instead of actually contributing to national defense, so some have begun to call for the squadrons elimination because of the budget deficit and potential cuts in military spending.

Laura Peterson, a spokeswoman for Taxpayers for Common Sense, says the money could be better spent on other programs. Some readers of the Air Force Times newspaper, obviously read mainly by current and former members of the Air Force, recently listed eliminating the Blue Angels and similar programs as one way to cut defense spending.

Others intimately connected with the Navy naturally disagree.

Capt.Greg McWherter, the Blue Angels commander, claims that the Blues fill a vital national security role by improving morale, helping with recruiting and presenting a public face for the nations 500,000 sailors and Marines. He sees Blue Angels performances as inspiring young people to join the military and thus ensuring that the Navy and the Marine Corps is strong 10 to 15 years from now. Ray Davis, the U.S. Navy secretary, says the Blue Angels are important because they showcase the incredible skill level of U.S. military. The Blues are ambassadors for not just the Navy but for [sic] the entire American military across this country and around the world. Rep.Jeff Miller, whose district includes the Pensacola Naval Air Station and who is on the House Armed Services Committee, points to the popularity of the Blue Angels as proof that the program will be kept alive: You can ask the hundreds of thousands of people who come out each weekend and see them fly and know they aren’t going anywhere.

The potential cuts to the defense budget are due to sequestration because the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the so-called Supercommittee) failed to come to an agreement on how to reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.5trillion over ten years. That is only $150billion a year, split between security and nonsecurity programs, but exempting the Cerberus of the welfare state: Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 mandates that if the Supercommittee fails to specify spending cuts, then a cut of $1.2trillion over ten years will automatically take place. That is $120billion a year. Any idiot except a member of Congress could cut $120billion a year in federal spending for ten years without thinking about it for more than ten minutes. By anyone’s estimate, the U.S. government is spending more than $10billion a month on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is your $120billion a year. How hard was that?

But it turns out that the cuts to the defense budget are not real cuts at all; they are reductions in the rate of spending increases. Federal spending and federal debt are both still forecast to grow at a rate faster than the U.S. economy.

As the freshman, junior senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, recently explained,

The interesting thing is there will be no cuts in military spending. This may surprise some people, but there will be no cuts in military spending because were only cutting proposed increases. If we do nothing, military spending goes up 23percent over 10 years. If we sequester the money, it will still go up 16percent. So spending is still rising under any of these plans. In fact, if you look at both alternatives, spending is still going up. Were only cutting proposed increases in spending….

Defense spending will go up $100billion over ten years even if we sequester $600billion, because the curve of spending in our country is going up at about 7.5percent a year. All spending goes up.

His father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), has long called for real cuts not in defense spending, but in offense spending, which is what the budget of the Department of Defense is mostly spent on.

The war party, that is, the Republican Party, is livid over the proposed cuts to the Pentagons budget.

Mitt Romney says the cuts are undermining troop capacity, delaying the building of aircraft carriers and cutting the capacity of the U.S. to defend itself. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee maintain that the cuts represent a threat to the national security interests of the United States, and cannot be allowed to occur. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), insisted that he would not be the armed services chairman who presides over crippling our military. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) a member of the Supercommittee wants to reconfigure the automatic spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act to prevent cuts to the defense budget.

But we have been this way before. Earlier this year it was reported by Defense News that Barack Obama wanted to cut defense spending by $400 billion by 2023. The aforementioned Buck McKeon whose district includes Edwards Air Force Base and whose top two donors were Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman expressed his opposition then as well: I have grave concerns about the White House announcing a $400 billion cut to national security spending while our troops are fighting in three different theaters. I guess ending senseless foreign wars never occurred to him. But as it turns out, the $400billion cut was a reduction only in the rate of growth: The goal will be to hold growth in the defense base budget below inflation, which would save $400billion by 2023, said the White House.

And what is this nonsense about cutting spending by $1.2trillion over ten years or $400billion by 2023? Politicians always talk in terms of other years after the next fiscal year because they want to make their numbers look bigger. But it is ludicrous to talk about anything that will happen in ten years, in the year 2023, or in any other year after the next fiscal year. The present Congress cannot bind any future Congress to do anything. A politician might as well say that he plans to cut $100trillion from the federal budget by 2095.

The very heart and soul of conservatism is not libertarianism, as Ronald Reagan once claimed it was; the very heart and soul of conservatism is war and militarism. The Blue Angels have no need to worry as long as Republicans continue to equate reductions in the rate of increases in the defense budget with cuts that threaten national security.

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