Coffman’s bold budget move

The problem with cutting budgets is no one ever wants to curb spending on the government cheese they cherish.

Octogenarian-hating Republicans only care about trimming Social Security and Medicare and other social spending. Or so the Democrats in Washington would have us all believe.

Terrorist-sympathizing Democrats only want to cut the Pentagon, and the nation’s spook, spy and foreign intelligence programs. Or so the Republicans in Washington would have us all believe.

While 100 percent of the members in Congress probably agree that significant budget cuts in some form are needed, nowhere near 51 percent of the members ever seem to be able to agree on exactly what those cuts should be. One man’s budget trash is another man’s political treasure.

And thus a $14 trillion national debt was born.

If Al Gore is right and there is such thing as global warming, let me assure you that it has had absolutely no impact on the population of sacred cows, at least not in Washington, D.C. Because when it comes to spending, both parties have got their own discreet and thriving herd of holy cattle.

All of this helps explain why Aurora Congressman Mike Coffman’s push to scrutinize and cut the Pentagon’s budget — the GOP’s most prized spending priority — is more than just important. It’s a politically provocative move that provides a significant source of potential spending cuts to help erase the current year’s $1.4 trillion deficit, and it ups the political ante on Democrats who love to use the Republicans’ typical unwillingness to squeeze the Pentagon as their primary political pretext for not engaging a bipartisan effort to reform Social Security and Medicare.

Thanks to Coffman’s modern-day brand of old-fashioned leadership, that excuse goes — poof! — up in smoke.

Not just any suit roaming the halls of Congress can go around demanding that the military get more efficient, especially with wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Coffman can. A conservative who got his start in politics after winning election to a statehouse and Senate seat once held by Bill Owens, Coffman is also a United States Marine, who served tours in both the Persian Gulf War and during the second fight in Iraq. Coffman actually voluntarily left the cushy job of State Treasurer to traipse off to Baghdad to help that nascent democracy administer its historic first elections — the same elections where the ink stained fingers of Iraqi commoners became this generation’s symbol of the universal yearning of all people to be free.

All of which explains why no one is going to call Mike Coffman anything less than a patriot, a fact that gives the congressman broad political license to propose cuts to the military. And his expertise in the machinery of the military leaves him confident that, as Vince Carroll over at the Denver Post recently quoted Coffman as saying, a round of Pentagon budget cuts can be executed “without compromising our war-making abilities.”

And from his powerful perch on the House Armed Services Committee, Coffman is pursuing exactly that, proposing small steps like abolishing the anachronism that is the Selective Service, mid-tier moves like thinning a senior bureaucratic structure that he deems top heavy, and Coffman’s even put large-scale strategic matters on the table, including the possibility of reducing our military footprint in Europe and Asia.

No surprise, Coffman hasn’t escaped political resistance in all this. Some within his own party — and even the current administration — have chafed at many of the cuts he has proposed. In some cases, the push back is an honest policy disagreement, and a real debate should be had. But, as Carroll pointed out in his own effusive description of Coffman’s Pentagon pruning push, some leading neo-conservatives have even gone so far as to question whether the Pentagon should be reduced on any level, anywhere, in any amount at all.

But Coffman’s rejoinder is the right one: “They believe their commitment (to the military) is measured by spending.” Conservatives know that more spending doesn’t always a better government make. Sometimes a little efficiency is just what the bureaucratic doctor ordered – yes, even for the military.

And so true to his Semper Fidelis bona fides, Coffman presses on. His staff tells me his push for Pentagon efficiencies will play out in numerous appropriation and authorization bills over the course of the year. Coffman and his able team rightly point out that there’s no real way to get a handle on a $1.4 trillion annual funding shortfall without scrutinizing all parts of the budget — for Republicans that means the Pentagon, and for Democrats that means Social Security and Medicare.

Now, only time will tell whether Coffman’s gutsy budget gambit will succeed, and likewise whether his scrutiny of Republican spending priorities will shame Democrats into confronting their own. For those who believe that America’s future prosperity is on the cusp of drowning in a sea of red ink, we can only hope for both.

Josh Penry is the former Colorado Senate minority leader, and a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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