Once again, Congress is debating the federal budget. As is often the case, the heart of this debate is our national defense. While some argue the catalyst for this controversy arose in the last decade, in reality it dates back to the country's founding.
National defense is one of the only mandatory government functions prescribed by the Constitution. While most powers given to Congress are permissive, the Constitution unequivocally directs the federal government to "provide for the common defense." For example, Congress is permitted to collect taxes, borrow money and regulate commerce--but not required to do so. However, the Constitution directs the government to "protect each of them [the states] against invasion."
As Alexander Hamilton made clear in The Federalist Papers, the freedoms provided by the Constitution are predicated on a strong national defense. It is no surprise, then, the first budget crisis the nascent U.S. government faced was repaying the debts it owed to states and soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Over time, the permissive functions of government have grown and now far exceed national defense. Defense spending now represents roughly 15 percent of federal spending each year, while Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up around 50 percent.
Providing for the common defense can be an abstract concept. In real terms, the military employs over 2 million active duty, National Guard, reserve and civilian personnel. The military maintains over 5,000 installations, including 800 overseas. At the moment, more than 300,000 personnel are deployed overseas to protect America's interests. This forward presence is necessary for the military to respond to emergencies or acts of aggression at a moment's notice.
When we invest in our military, we are investing in preparation. The military is prepared to respond to emergencies, like earthquakes and tsunamis. It is prepared to fight terrorism and protect civilian populations. It is prepared to defend shipping lanes and the free flow of commercial activity that is the backbone of our economic strength. And if necessary, it is prepared to fight major world powers to protect our freedoms. This preparation--our ability and willingness to fight--serves as a deterrent, helping preserve peace and stability around the world.
This massive effort costs money. Approximately 25 percent of the military budget goes to paying military salaries and healthcare. About 45 percent supports...