The figure and the program alignments may or may not be quite right, but there is merit in U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell's call to cut at least $100 billion from the Pentagon budget and put aside deficit constraints to heal our ailing economy.
``The cold war is over. It's time to take down the artificial budget walls which prevent us from shifting our priorities from abroad to here at home,'' Mitchell, D-Maine, said in a speech to the National Press Club. The number of troops, including those abroad, should be reduced, the B-2 Stealth bomber should be eliminated, the Star Wars antimissile program reduced, and other strategic programs cut in order to invest in education and the infrastructure at home, he said.
``We need to turn our high tech capabilities to the civilian challenges of tomorrow in areas such as communications, transportation and health technologies,'' Mitchell said. He would make the $100 billion cut over five years.
Both Democrats and Republicans are calling for reductions in defense spending, and this will be a popular target throughout the coming session of Congress. With the world situation as it has become, it makes sense to look in this direction. It would be foolish and dangerous to damage and seriously weaken the defense establishment, but it is wise to impose reasonable limits and make them stick.
Further, what about still more cuts in other federal spending to bring the government's financial outgo more in line with the income? The nation has a shaky economy, and cutting the budget deficit would do a number of meaningful things to cut down on the huge amounts of interest paid on that debt interest payments that could do much more good diverted to more positive channels.
The early evidence is that President George Bush is not willing to go as far as Mitchell and his Democratic colleagues. But the issue of budgeting and spending should, for a welcome change, go beyond the political arena. Congress, the major cause of our financial problems, and the White House have a good chance to get something important accomplished this year.
A stronger sense of fiscal responsibility in Washington which is possible with the demise of communism and its previous threats would do much for the sagging economy and American morale. Defense spending definitely should be cut sharply, and there are numerous other programs that need to be trimmed.
It won't matter to most troubled Americans whether Democrats or Republicans do this, as long as it gets done.