On the whole it's stupid to make across-the-board spending cuts to much of the federal budget. That's what the sequester legislation does, which both parties and Obama agreed to.
Stephen Colbert likened this to someone trying to lose weight by using a scalpel to slice 2% of his poundage off over his entire body. The image was appropriately gruesome.
I don't like the sequester either, in large part because Republicans have come to like it. Anything that shrinks government, they're for. Even if the programs and services being cut are valuable, necessary, and desired by the citizenry.
But many progressives agree with the GOP on this: defense spending deserves to be cut by $500 billion over the next ten years. This is the good side of the sequester: half of it comes out of defense.
Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, wants the sequester to go fully into effect.
"We should let it happen," Dean said of $1 trillion in domestic, defense and Medicare spending cuts set to be triggered on March 1. "I’m in favor of the sequester. It is tough on things that I care about a lot, but the fact of the matter is, you are not going to get another chance to cut the defense budget in the way that it needs to be cut."
Ezra Klein, another progressive, agrees. He laid out his reasoning in a convincing piece, "The case for the sequester's defense cuts."
Now, sequestration is a really stupid way to cut the defense budget. I’m not arguing that. But a $500 billion cut is not necessarily a stupid amount by which to cut the defense budget. And cutting $500 billion from the defense budget is not necessarily a stupid way to reduce the deficit.
Klein points out that even with the sequester, the defense budget will be down only 31% from the highs reached during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By comparison, defense cuts were considerably larger after the Korean War (43%), Vietnam War (33%), and the Cold War (36%).
Defense is taking a bigger pecentage hit from the sequester than other programs, almost 10% overall. This is as it should be.
We spend way too much on defense, especially since there aren't any serious threats to the United States that demand ridiculous weapons systems like the absurdly expensive F-35 fighter jet -- which costs $135 million each, could cost $396 billion in total, and has been plagued with problems.
Still, I'm hoping a smarter approach to federal spending can be found that will replace the sequester. But if Republicans stonewall by demanding all of the cuts come from domestic programs, Obama and the Democrats should say "Fine, then let's stick with what we have."
Because the sequester is halfway good: the $500 billion in defense cuts.