The Joint Chiefs of Staff under both presidents Bush and Obama have concluded that the greatest national security threat facing America is the federal budget deficit and debt. Their reasoning is primarily economic, in that interest payments on the debt will surpass baseline military spending in 2012. Since the majority of federal spending is mandatory or non-discretionary, legislators look to cut back on discretionary spending as the first step to balancing the budget. The problem is that defense spending is non-discretionary, and gets cut first.
This paper does not offer a budget proposal or solution to our current fiscal deficit. Instead, it looks back to the founding documents, namely, the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Federalist Papers and asks, “How did we get here?” Is the level of spending in line with what the founders envisioned? My research has led me to conclude that no, the amount of federal spending is not in line with the founders original intent. They intended the Constitution to achieve two goals: safety and happiness. Safety would be provided by the federal government, necessitating the federal government to focus outward on anticipating and preparing for emerging threats, engaging in international discourse, entering and maintaining treaties and alliances, and ensuring a sound economic and trade policy. The states, given their closer proximity to the people, would focus on happiness.
The federal government would also have to focus “at” but not “in” the states to ensure not only the common good but also the states’ ability to provide happiness. Focusing in the states toward groups or individuals would cause factions, which not only destroy happiness but hurt security as well. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the federal government is doing. It spends over 60 percent of its budget focusing on individuals and groups within the states, and also targets individuals with its tax policy. Since it is now trying to provide both security and happiness, it must expand beyond its intended size, and as a consequence is now too big and expensive to sustain. This “loss of focus” is what is driving our deficits and debt.
Researching and writing this paper has helped me immensely. As an officer in the Army, my job is to focus outward on leading my unit to a goal or destination, and anticipating and preparing for threats before they occur. My non-commissioned officers focus inward on providing for the happiness of my soldiers by ensuring they’re clothed, fed, trained, paid and cared for if they get sick or injured. The more we both focus on our respective “spheres” the more successful we’ll be. The federal government would be well served to follow this example, and following this example, as described in our founding documents, will solve the national debt and deficit crisis.